I have lived all of my life in Texas, where seasons are merely idyllic mirages. The only way Texans know spring has arrived is when it hails. When the air conditioner is off at night, at least once a week, you know autumn has arrived. Generally, winter is considered to have arrived when the temperature stays below 65 degrees for more than three consecutive days. Summer is essentially every other day that does not fit the above descriptions. Ultimately, seasons don’t provide us with clear weather expectations in Texas.
Unlike Texas weather, the soul does have regular seasons. In the summer of our souls, we relish in the fullness of lush, green places of life. We find ourselves marveling at the blooming roses of ourselves until the heat causes us to wither. In the autumn, we lay down places of our soul that need to die. We watch as God takes these broken pieces of our life, turning them brilliant and beautiful as we let go. In the winter, deep rest settles over the lost places of our soul. Blankets of snow cover these hidden spaces, and life freezes for a time as we grieve for what we knew that is now a mere memory. In the spring of our souls, new life breaks free from frozen ground. It is fragile but resilient as God offers us a new dream that flourishes into lush green places.
Seasons are an extremely helpful metaphor when we seek to name how we are with God. Every person will walk through these seasons multiple times throughout his or her lifetime. As a leader, knowing what season your soul is currently in can be an invaluable experience. Take a moment now to wonder about this with God. What season is your soul in? How do you know?
Whatever season you are in, there are two key truths to navigating that season. First, name it free of judgement. Winter is not a “bad” season of the soul, and summer is not a “good” season. They are just seasons; they are cyclical and expected. Second, stay with the season. If you are experiencing the withering heat of summer as it gives way to autumn, you can’t rush through or skip it. While spiritual sunburn is uncomfortable, it is nevertheless part of the experience. Trust that God will move you through to autumn when it is time. Attempting to maneuver your way into a perceived more pleasant season can short-circuit your opportunity to be transformed.
When you have named and accepted the season your soul is experiencing, take time to savor what is beautiful about this moment. Being snowed-in forces us to be silent and restful. The winter of the soul has beauty to find. Ice formations, after all, can be exquisite. Equally important is the acknowledgement of what is hard or uncomfortable about this season. Pollen may signal the beginning of gorgeous blooms, but it makes me sneeze! The rapid growth of the soul’s spring is challenging, too. Linger where you are. God is the one who brought you to this season and will complete it as well.
Those who lead groups of God’s people would also be wise to name the season their community is currently experiencing.
Is your community experiencing the rapid growth of spring? Is the community being asked to let go of a damaging belief and watch it die? Whatever season your community is in, the same two truths apply to navigating it as a body of Christ. Name it without judgement, and stay within the season. A forced new program cannot effectively end winter. For instance, adding a new service with new attractions will not bring authentic new life. It will spring forth organically when it is time; it cannot be rushed.
As a leader, there is a third truth that also calls for your attention. Beware of assuming your community is in the same season you are personally experiencing. One of the many challenges of spiritual leadership is seeing yourself both as a part of the community and separate from the people you lead. This is particularly challenging if you are in a season of new life while your community is experiencing death or grief. Use your energy of new life and joy to support your community without forcing them to feel the same way.
While the seasons of the soul are certainly more predictable than Texas weather, there is still room to be surprised and even confused. If you find yourself wondering about the current season of your soul, seek out a spiritual director or wise friend. As Daniel said:
Blessed be the name of God from age to age,
for wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons,
deposes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding.
He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and light dwells with him.
(Daniel 2:20-22 NRSV)