This time of year always makes me think about the season. How can I ignore it? In Chicago the air is usually bitter cold. I’m not talking about it being a little bit chilly. It’s downright frigid with temperatures preferring to hover in the subzero range. At times it is difficult to appreciate the present moment, when I find myself counting the number of months left until spring. Navigating the highways can be quite a challenge. Every trip out whether on foot or in a vehicle means risk to one’s body and property. As I get older, I am getting less steady on my feet, walking like an old penguin and having to wear a coat that could double as a down sleeping bag.
Winter is a part of everyone’s life journey. We all experience it. Accept it or not, winter will inevitably come to us. Each journey has its own peaks and valleys. Some might say that winter is definitely a valley experience dominated with darkness. But others view it as being on the mountain top, especially if one takes pleasure in skiing. Some comment on the whiteness of the season and the extra use of light. Others might only see the gray concrete highways and barren trees.
Most of us agree that winter does bring storms which can alter our plans. We are usually glued to the weather forecast in this season, soon to discover that a better job of prediction is done by sticking a head out the window as opposed to sapping the knowledge out of a sophisticated modern meteorologist. In spite of our best efforts, some storms still take us by surprise.
Life events that take us by surprise
Events in life that can take people by surprise always bring with them some sort of stress. Events such as a sudden job loss or change in employment status; a serious illness; the death of a loved one; an unexpected move or need to relocate; a natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, flood, or fire; the ending of a relationship; an assault such in a burglary or rape; and accidents. In contrast to the bad, good events in life can also lead to stress: a new job; birth of a child; children leaving the home for college; or meeting someone new.
Some events happen very slowly
In contrast to the sudden storms of life, there are also events that creep up on us. These are the things that don’t happen overnight. No one ever wakes up in the morning to find oneself in a new life stage. (Although anyone who has ever had a teenager can swear that they grow inches overnight). Events that happen very slowly include puberty, reaching adulthood, vocational discernment, midlife crisis, menopause, empty-nesting, retirement, and spiritual growth. In fact, in the spiritual life, I have heard it often said that one never stands still. One is either going forward or backward. And in terms of psychological growth, most of us tend to jump all over the place. What characterizes slow transitions is that they usually involve moving from something old and very familiar to something new and unfamiliar.
We have a limited perspective
The problem we all have with changes and seasons in our life is that we never quite know what is coming up next or where we are standing, hence our desire for a good weather channel or forecasting app. We don’t have a bird’s eye view of the map of our life’s journey. We struggle to find a reference point at any one moment. We never know if we are on the mountain top or indeed in the valley. The old saying goes, “hindsight is always 20/20.” But talk to any older person and they will mention “the good old days.” But often at closer inspection, those “good old days” had lots of challenges and were often in fact downright awful.
Then what is the best compass?
The best compass is God. And through God, learning to live in the present moment. Research any philosopher, psychiatrist, or spiritual writing and you will find that they all say the healthiest perspective is that one which focuses on living in the present moment. So in the midst of our current snow storms there are treasures to be had. No need to even set out searching for the gifts of the present moment; such gifts are already in our hands. It is just a matter of having the ability to see them. No one is without exception.
I hear someone say, “I am different. My problems are worse than anyone else. There are no blessings seen here.” What such a person fails to realize is that even in our struggles and darkness moments there are the opportunities for growth and sanctity. Christians can also appreciate the redemptive value in suffering.
A psalm about the journey and how God is our compass:
Lord, You have probed me, You know me:
You know when I sit and stand;
You understand my thoughts from afar.
You sift through my travels and my rest;
With all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
Lord, You know it all.
Behind and before You encircle me
And rest Your hand upon me.
Probe me, God, know my heart;
Try me, know my concerns.
See if my path is crooked,
Then lead me in the ancient paths. (Psalms 139:1-5;23-24).
We all go the ancient path.
In spite of what believing that we are modern people, we all travel the ancient path that others have gone before us. We only hope to travel it with the grace of the Saints and not get ourselves off course or do it crooked. We all will encounter challenges, stressors, and anxieties. These are inevitable parts of life. We all will encounter a storm in the dead of winter. Some of us might even encounter more especially if our journeys take us to the Northern Tundra as opposed to sunny Florida. But whatever our life maps, we have an Eternal Guide to help us arrive where we need to go.