It’s winter in the garden. A few inches of snow have blanketed my garden. The temperature is supposed to drop below zero (F) tonight. It is the season of dormancy, which is actually an essential part of the life cycle of plants in a temperate climate. But dormant is not dead.
Dormant plants are growing in ways that are hidden. The bulbs that I quickly planted on Monday, before the ground froze, had tiny shoots starting to emerge. Shoots now hidden under inches of dark soil and white snow. The lilac shrub outside my office window has the bulges of leaf buds on the stems, even as the last of the leaves have fallen off the shrub. The seeds from my echinacea (coneflower) and flax are scattered in my perennial bed, while the stalks above are brown and dead-looking.
Winter, the season of hidden growth, potential, hope, but not yet flowering. Winter is the faith season of the garden. It’s easy to believe in the goodness and productivity of the land in the green of spring and the exuberance of summer. It takes faith to believe that there is growth in the winter.
Several centuries ago, a French woman of faith, Madame Jeanne Guyon (1648-1717), reflected on winter and the nature of the hidden work of the soul in winter:
As cold comes on the wings of a winter storm, the trees gradually begin to lose their leaves. The green is so changed into a funeral brown; soon the leaves fall away and die. Behold the tree’s appearance now! It looks stripped and desolate. Behold the loss of summer’s beautiful garment. What happens as you look upon that poor tree? You see a revelation.
Under all the beautiful leaves there had been all sorts of irregularities and defects. The defects had been invisible because of the beautiful leaves. Now those defects are startlingly revealed! The tree is no longer beautiful in its surface appearance. But has the tree actually changed? Not at all. Everything is exactly as it was before. Everything is as it has always been! It is just that the leaves are no longer there to hide what is real. The beauty of the outward life of the leaves had only hidden what had always been present.
The same is true of you. The same is true of all believers. We can each looks so beautiful … until life disappears! Then, no matter who, the Christian is revealed as full of defects. As the Lord works on you to produce purification, you will appear stripped of all your virtues! But, in the tree, there is life inside; and, as the tree, you are not actually becoming worse, you are simply seeing yourself for what you really are! Know that somewhere deep within the tree of winter there is still the life that produced last spring’s beautiful leaves.