Seasons of Growth
Leaning in to Hard Seasons
Advent is starting soon and for most people this is a time to prepare for Christmas. Oftentimes, this means buying gifts, decorating, and baking more than prayer and penance. Recently, I’ve begun viewing Advent as a sort of mini-Lent in which I can prepare my interior life through prayer and penance for the celebration of Christmas. I think there is a lot of wisdom in the Church’s view of having seasons of preparation leading up to celebrations. Often I wonder what it’s like for people who do not engage in Advent the day after Christmas. What makes them jettison their trees and decorations (and even their good cheer) so soon after Christmas? I think part of it is without intentional preparation, there is usually an undervaluing of the celebration and a lack of joy.
Seasons are built into our church tradition, but also very naturally in our lives. I was at Ave Maria University for a semester pursuing a master’s degree in theology before changing career paths to psychology. I loved the school and have no complaints about it. The one thing that stands out in my mind is biking to school in 80 degree humidity in December and having a Christmas event with no need for a jacket. I found the lack of seasons somewhat alarming and unnatural. Just as we have external seasons, we have seasons of life that are not as predictable, but are nonetheless ordained by God. When we try to deny or escape those seasons, it is just as unnatural as it is for a midwestern kid to be sweating in December. I am hesitant to mention the verse from Ecclesiastes about seasons because now the song by the Byrds will be in my head for the rest of the day, but “there is a time for every season” (and a purpose) (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
We tend to flee from times of growth and negative emotions. In doing so, we become more and more entangled in and trapped by them, like a Chinese finger trap or a straight jacket. Trying to get rid of these emotions and “fast forward” to the good part is not only unhealthy but also futile. God will knit things together and tie up loose ends when it is time for us to move on to the next stage of our lives, just like the snow melts when it is time for new growth in Spring. Trying to get past this is like trying to row our way through a tropical storm.
My advice is to sit in the emotion you are feeling. Use the SIFT process of Dan Siegel which involves noticing Sensations, Images, Feelings and Thoughts surrounding your state. Be eager to ask not why but, “what am I expected to do?” Take some time to rest in the midst of your struggle. While running for his life, Elijah was given bread and water and told to rest by an angel in the midst of his fleeing.
I had a rough time this past weekend and had a few arguments with my wife that made me feel helpless, powerless, a failure as a husband, petty, and unlovable. The strange thing was I tried to address it the best I could, then took a nap amidst the uncertainty, and when I woke up things were a little better. They continued getting better, and we ended the weekend in a positive and supportive place. I encourage you all to try to eliminate the planning and anxiety associated with seasons. Lean into them, respond with intentionality, and try to receive what God wants to give you in them. Have hope that He is preparing you for a later season of joy and peace.