Every year at this time I look out over my beehives with deep compassion. There, half buried in snow, are a few thousand honeybees huddles together for warmth against all odds. I wrap the beehives with some winter insulation, but when the temperatures drop as deeply as they have, it is hard to imagine anything not turning into a block of ice itself. So I trudged out into the cold with some blankets and gently laid them over my hives, tucking them in with another layer of protection from this deep freeze. It may be cold comfort to my bees, but if they can survive this coldest stretch, they have a chance of emerging this spring.
Many of those I talk to also feel like this is the coldest stretch, the deepest freeze, and the hardest time for them. Stack up a pandemic, cold weather, job loss, missed school, strained relationships, and uncertainty and life feels like it is frigid and inhospitable to any good thing at all.
Early Christians found a way to express and make some sense of the darkest seasons of their lives. They expressed that growth rarely happens in a straight line, but more like seasons that take us often through hard times. Richard Byrne expressed it as three key movements, “secure orientation, painful disorientation, and surprising reorientation” that are “repeated throughout life’s journey.”
Julian of Norwich wrote that “our lives are a wonderful mixture of happiness and grief.” There are times when we feel secure, stable, and our hearts seem warm and full. Like a summer’s day where everything seems to be right, we know which way is up, and have a grasp of our own identity. This is good. But then, and we’ve all experienced it, our lives experience a painful disorientation. We are thrown off, we experience loss, it hurts, and we suffer. These are the dark days of winter in our hearts that can expose us to doubt, fear, and loneliness.
I find it helpful to turn to others who have gone before me to make sense of my own dark days. Nearly every saint we celebrate has experienced this dark night of the soul; this deep disorientation that comes from going through some sorrow. Theresa of Avila wrote, “I found myself so constricted on every side that the only remedy I discovered was to raise my eyes to heaven and call upon God.” Many have felt that God was absent in the hard times, and this is common and not a sign of some failure. Thomas Merton said that “God who is everywhere never leaves us, yet he may be more present to us when he is absent than when he is present.” In the cave of sadness we find that something good may be more clearly visible, a little light can light up the darkest place. Some found that it was in the hardest time, on the coldest night, that the true heart of their faith was formed. John of the Cross said, “I would not consider any spirituality worthwhile that wants to walk in sweetness and ease.” There is something to be found in the hard times, and this is where many find a surprise.
Like the gift of a warm spring day, we start to see signs of change. After the long night comes a season of newness, of hope, and of life. It is a surprising reorientation. While spring feels like a gift, the saints of old all seemed to have something in common as they emerged from the cold dark. They did so by the light of love. Thomas A Kemis discovered that, “Love is superior to everything: sweeter than anything, more courageous than anything, more fulfilling than anything, better than anything in heaven or earth.” It was love shared that warmed them, found them, and invited them into a better day.
As you journey through the seasons of your own soul, may you sense the heartbeat of love lighting your way through. May you find others who can walk with you in love, and sit with you until you’re found. Spring is coming.