Spring has officially arrived in the Midwest and new life is blossoming all around, from the cacophony of bird songs in the air to the flowers on the trees and in gardens. If you’re like me, the arrival of spring is met with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Spring comes just at the moment when you are most sick of the cold and deadness of winter. It erupts in beauty and color and finally gives a break in the weather that will allow you to leave the house without 75 layers of clothing. The days begin to lengthen and you’re more likely to see sunshine during your day. The apprehension comes from knowing everything that spring brings with it–allergies and insects to start with. With more time comes the need to do more work–more yard work, more cleaning, more organizing, more gardening. Spring is beautiful, but it sure is hard work.
As I look ahead to summer, I think about the people who live in year-round warm climates. The people who don’t experience winter, not the icicles-on-your-eyebrows, foot-of-snow-and-more-forecasted kind of winter. As often as I have wished to live in one of these warmer climates, more often I am grateful for living in a temperate climate, where I get my fill every year of the hot, sultry days of summer as well as the cold, frozen days of winter. Most of all, I love the in-betweens: spring and fall.
In between the hot deadness of summer and the frozen deadness of winter is the blaze of life and color that come with spring and fall. In spring we celebrate new life, new growth, colorful blossoms filling the trees even before the leaves grow. As the world thaws, everything comes back to life in full force. In fall we celebrate the culmination of life with harvests of pumpkins and apples, and garish displays of plenty at our Thanksgiving feasts. The trees blaze with glorious color even as we are reminded that the leaves are dying. This is what I love about the Midwest and why I can suffer through 30 below windchills year after year. There’s a saying you often hear in the Midwest “If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes.” I would change this to “If you don’t like the season, wait 3 months.”
God promised that as long as the earth endures, we will have seasons. Which is good news if you like spring.
C. S. Lewis gives the best explanation for seasons in his book The Screwtape Letters:
Since they need change, the Enemy [God] has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual year; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before.
God has designed us for change, for seasons, and like the seasons in nature, we each experience seasons in our lives. Lewis talks about these seasons earlier in The Screwtape Letters, in the character of Screwtape, a senior demon giving advice to a younger demon about tempting humans using what he calls the law of Undulation. “Their nearest approach to constancy is undulation–the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.” He goes on to explain to his underling that troughs, or periods of dryness, are God’s way of producing growth in his followers. “It is during the trough periods, much more than the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.”
It is the long, cold, dead winter that makes way for spring.
There’s an interesting phenomena about tree roots. They don’t grow during the winter, but they are always ready to grow. At the first hint of spring, long before anything above ground has had any sort of growth, the tree roots do the most growing. . It’s not a slow, steady growth, it’s a burst of growth, right at the end of winter. Just when the tree looks deadest, it experiences the greatest growth. Winter is necessary for spring. Growth happens when the old has a chance to die.
Sometimes in our understanding of theology we refuse to let old thoughts and old systems die. We understand growth in theology. Yes, it’s important to keep learning, keep studying, keep thinking. But we have a hard time giving up the old ways of thinking. Admitting that the old way of thinking is ready to die is perhaps admitting that we believed something false or taught something wrong. So, instead of learning and growing, we instead work even harder to prove that our old way of thinking still works. Imagine a tree fighting to keep its leaves through the winter while still attempting to grow new leaves for the next season. It’s impossible.
Just as a parent must explain to a small child that their baby teeth have to fall out to make room for their adult teeth. So, in our belief structures, the immature beliefs have to die to make room for the mature beliefs. God desires growth and growth becomes impossible when we refuse to let the old die.
Winter doesn’t kill the tree, it kills the leaves. The tree remains and when new leaves grow in the spring, the tree is even more beautiful, mature, solid than before. Maybe it’s time to find out what is the tree and what are the leaves of your theology. Let the leaves die.
What are some old beliefs that you’ve had to let die? What did you discover that hasn’t changed?