“Trim them as low as possible. You’ve got to be courageous.” I imagined Grandma Vera’s voice pep-talking me. “It’s for their own good.”

I was preparing my garden for winter, and there were tears in my eyes. Our last several years have been thick with stress and loss, and this small garden was where I often process my grief and connect with God.

The end of the growing season usually feels poetic to me.  By late autumn, I’m ready for a pause, a rest, a shift in focus until spring ushers in fresh energy and hope.

But this year, harvest only seemed sad.  The depleted soil, the dead plants needing to be removed—everything felt like an ending.

Pretty sure I’m in a season of winter, too. I sighed and reluctantly—apologetically—pruned the geraniums down to mostly bare, ginger-like nubs. “Hopefully your winter will be only a few months long, and then you’ll be budding and growing lushly again,” I murmured to the plants, as if my projected empathy would help us both feel better.

My winter feels like it’s lasting forever.

Scripture didn’t seem to touch my sorrow anymore. Books felt limp, no longer profound or inspiring. Sermons and podcasts, Bible studies and grief classes reminded me of truth, but I still felt deeply, endlessly hollow and bizarrely unaffected.

And this had been going on for a long time.  Long enough that I’d started to bristle when people consoled, “This is just a really hard season for you guys.”  Was it truly “a season’?  Or was this actually going to be the rest of my life?!

It seemed naïve to assume the frayed pieces of my life would suddenly coalesce into a Hallmark-movie-like ending.  And I felt very opposed to false hope.

What exactly is the point of winter? My brain mused as I pruned further. Biologically, what NEEDS to happen?

I wiped the dirt off my hands, pulled out my phone, and Googled.

And the results broke through my fog and despair like nothing else had for months (maybe years).  As I read garden blogs and farming journals, I saw God’s design obviously, reliably unfolding in nature, and this built fresh scaffolding for my weary mind to lean on.  

So, I want to share four of these nature-showcased truths, along with two practical takeaways that are currently helping me slog through my own heavy, grey days.

1. Invisible processes are happening.

But, they are super invisible.

As temperatures drop, so does a plant’s metabolism.  Photosynthesis slows, respiration slows, and growth stops entirely.  Nutrients collected during the growing season begin to move into the bark and roots to nourish the plant during winter.  Leaves progressively lose their chlorophyll.  Any young buds already formed are wrapped in heavy skins called “scales” for safekeeping.  Plant hormones then signal the leaves, now largely stripped of nutrients, to fall off the tree.

This is not unlike our own winters.

Our hearts and minds may slow, involuntarily.  We feel grief more deeply and frustration more often as we struggle to function. Half-formed dreams are set aside, for lack of capacity to nurture them, and you may wonder if they will ever recover and grow again.

It’s harder to process ideas and events, harder to find words and form thoughts. You likely feel drained and bland, even lifeless. You can’t imagine that this is a good thing—you may feel genuine panic as more and more of your old self changes and shifts and falls apart.

Both in nature and in us, God’s work during winter is typically unseen.

We have to trust much more blindly during winter.

2. Winter is necessary, even inevitable. 

It doesn’t mean you’ve been demoted or rejected by God.

Winter is when organisms convert previously gathered resources into new energy and mend/repair themselves internally so they can withstand the rigors of their next fruiting season. During winter, proteins are broken down and re-made, and cell membranes are repaired.

During summer, we consume easily. Whether you’re a tree or a human, there’s plenty of sunlight, plenty of nourishment, plenty of co-laborers in your ecosystem. No one starves in summer.  

But during winter, it is harder to thrive.  

Maybe God knows we need longer spaces to lament and mourn properly. Maybe we need longer stretches for our Bible studies to ferment into something stronger and richer than interesting information. Maybe we need longer silences to recognize tightly-gripping areas of our heart, tucked unnoticeably into our typical routines.

These deeper transformations generally cannot happen during rich, busy summers.

The Apostle Paul talks about a similar cycle in Romans, chapter 5:

“Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Philip Yancey writes about this passage in his book, Reaching for the Invisible God

“He [Paul] lists ‘hope’ at the end, instead of where I [Philip] would normally expect it at the beginning, as the fuel that keeps a person going.  [But] no, hope emerges from the struggle, a byproduct of faithfulness.”

And in my experience, this emergence can take a while.

3. Almost nothing blooms in winter.

Winter dormancy is largely about conserving nutrients. This is why deciduous trees shed their leaves.  If they kept actively growing during winter, the water in their trunk, stems, and leaves would freeze, causing tremendous damage to them.

Instead, plants ration their energy until gentler weather returns. Buds and blooms won’t unfurl until the plant has plenty of spare energy again.

This period of paused growth allows their roots to continue developing and thriving, ultimately enabling them to enter the next season healthily.  

Therefore, during your own winter:

Don’t panic because you’re not blooming. 

Don’t get bitter/jealous because other people are blooming.  

Don’t try to do too much. 

Focus on wintering well.

4. You can’t affect the length of this season.

How long is this going to last?  I sometimes feel embarrassed, especially when I meet new people who don’t know me apart from my current season, when I feel like a shell of my old self.  If my faith were better or if my heart were more godly, wouldn’t I have gotten through this sanctifying season by now? I wonder.

But sometimes, hard circumstances are NOT the result of our own sins or failures.  Some are.  Yet this wasn’t the case for Job (Job 1:1-12), and it wasn’t for the blind man (John 9:2-3), and it wasn’t for Christ Himself (I Peter 2:22, Hebrews 4:15). 

Sometimes, we are simply wading through thick, earthly brokenness—disease, disaster, financial misfortune, or the sins of others that have splattered unjustly onto us.

In nature, some winters are extra-long. Occasionally, several long winters happen in a row, with little time between for organisms to collect fresh sunshine and strength. Those are objectively brutal seasons. Yet, they are never the trees’ or bushes’ or gardens’ fault.

Also, I often errantly promise myself—and others—that these seasons of difficulty will end soon. I grasp for a timeframe, something quantifiable, something predictive to bolster my short-term hopes.

Yet, Admiral Jim Stockdale, a former POW during the Vietnam War, offers us great wisdom here:

. . . I asked, “Who didn’t make it out [of the prison camps]?” 

“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists. . . They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. 

“Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go.

“And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. 

“And they died of a broken heart.”

But, because God knows our tendency to hinge our hopes on a particular time frame, He gave us John 16:33 (emphasis mine): 

“I have told you these things so that IN ME you may have peace.  
In this world, you will have troubles, but take heart: 
I have overcome the world.” 

Let’s note: Jesus did not say, Take heart—it’s all going to work out soon.

Instead, He reminds us, gently and truthfully, No matter what, my death and resurrection made it so there is a “beyond this.”  Where you are right now is not where you will always be. Your “now” is not your “forever.” And I am here—in this—with you.

Maybe this season will pass, maybe it will stretch for many years still. But, at the end of all our seasons, there will be eternity—where there will be no more crying or pain, loss or injustice.

And God will walk us through the meantime, grieving with us and weeping with us and interceding for us and comforting us.  So, please hang in there with me.  This isn’t where our story ends.

Keep drinking water.

If a plant is going to endure through winter, it doesn’t leaf or bud or even appear to be alive. But, it still needs water. Trees sip from snow melt, and the geraniums in your garage need to be kept moist (but not soaking wet, because that would be too much for them to process while resting).

In summer, a thirsty plant responds visibly to watering; it’s gratifying to watch. In winter, there’s no such reaction; a dormant plant just kind of sits there.

However, the water is still keeping that plant alive.  

We are no different. We need a steady IV drip of truth, especially as winter drags on.

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “If I draw no fresh supplies from Heaven, the old corn in my barn is soon consumed by the famine raging in my soul.”

I’m honestly not good at this part. When I’m deeply fatigued or in pain, I feel too tired to get up earlier, too weak to create better habits, defeated each time I try a new strategy.  I’m not sure what is Satan, what is depression, and what is my own sin in this mix; but I can tell you that scrolling numbly on my phone hasn’t significantly restored my soul.

However, it does help to steep myself—like a tea bag—in continuous truth.  

Practically, here’s what that looks like for me right now:

Rest, but don’t quit.

Above all, I want to tell you: It’s okay if you’ve slowed to a halt.

You’re in good company.

Remember Elijah? After years of loneliness and fear and stress and strain and lack, Elijah sees a series of mountaintop miracles. Yet, as soon as a livid Jezebel threatens his life, Elijah collapses. He has no strength left. He’s overwhelmed, exhausted, and deeply depressed.

He literally crawls under a bush and goes to sleep.

And if you’re reading this, youlike Imay absolutely relate to that. Once zealous and idealistic, now drained and disoriented.

Elijah’s brain and body were processing years of misjudgment, isolation, trauma, and disappointment. And in that place, he felt zero optimism about his future, despite God’s consistent presence and visible faithfulness.

But, God doesn’t shame Elijah here. He doesn’t boom correctively, “How can you be struggling after everything I’ve provided and done for you?!”

Instead, God sends an angel to Elijah’s bush with food and water, then makes Elijah sleep more, explaining, “… the journey is too much for you.” No chiding, just the acknowledgement that Elijah has hit his human limit, and God knows this.

So if you’ve found yourself curled up exhaustedly in the shadow of dark despair, heartbroken and battle-weary like I have, please don’t quit. You’re not alone, and you’re not defective.

We all have physical and mental and emotional limits; God chose to make us this way.  If you’ve hit yours, it doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.  Please just keep showing up, however that looks for you right now. 

Do as much as you can, then use your last ounce of strength to trust that the God Who multiplied fishes and loaves, oil and flour, turned water into wine, and raised corpses from the dead will multiply whatever you can offer.

Hosea 6:3 says:

“His going forth is as certain as the dawn, and He will come to us like the spring rain watering the earth.”  

Isn’t that the strongest comparison? Sunrise always comes.

Even amidst tornadoes and fires and floods, health crises and deaths, broken hopes and deferred dreams, in summer and winter alike—the physical sun keeps rising.  And God promises that just as reliably as this daily sunrise, He will nourish us and sustain us like the spring rains.

Dormant plants and buried bulbs don’t need to do anything to elicit spring.

In fact, they can’t. 

So, even as we do our daily best in whatever we’re each facing, let’s fall hard on this ultimate truth:

It is God alone Who will bring us through our winters.

Because as Annie Flint wrote many years ago amidst her own very long, very hard circumstances:

“When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ‘ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.”

Photography: JenniMarie Photography

Dwell: A new audio Bible app that keeps Scripture in your ears and on your heart.

12 Comments

  1. Tracy Marquette says:

    Thanks 3 years after husbands death and oh so much change . Really understand this .

  2. Diane Ortega says:

    Wow! Wow! Wow! I read your words anxiously and hungrily! I came across your page through another person and what I just read is exactly what’s been happening in my life. It feels like two years straight of winter. This post has helped me to see what’s been happening to me. Thank you and May God continue to use you for his glory!

  3. Thanks for the awesome post!
    Your allegories are awesome!

  4. Holly Gordon says:

    Thank you. I needed this today. My husband passed away last month at the age of 42. We were married 18 years, but high school sweethearts so together over 25 years. He was a wonderful husband and father and this is truly a deep are dark winter for me.

  5. Elijah was an amazing man and yet he too had limits, times of dismay and moments where he wanted to throw in the towel.
    Beautiful words for each one in discouragement.

    1. Ditto to Leslie Moon. I so needed to hear the story of Elijah crumbling before Jezebel after all God had done. What at timely post for me, thank you!

  6. Kelly Brumley says:

    Crying my way through this blog post, it is exactly what I needed to hear today. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Perfect timing. Thank you for your poignant honesty.

  8. Lynne Hartke says:

    Thank you Marian. Excellent, hard-learned wisdom shared with compassion and research.

  9. Heather Coates says:

    Dear Marian,
    I thank our God for blessing your mind and hands to write this. Dear sister, you have deposited hope that can only come from The Spirit into my soul.
    Gratefully, Heather Coates, Louisville KY

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