Outside my window as I type is an old American Elm tree, weathered and battered by age and neglect. Its canopy is broken in places, but still reaches about a hundred or more feet into the winter sky. It is bare these days, of course, but stands yet alive--and its life is not lost on me, especially during these dark days of winter when I’m rather uncomfortable and there are days I lack motivation to do all the things we do.
Even though the cold is bitter and rough on our spirits, we might see a grace of God in this winter season and a mystery of faith in God’s creation, especially the trees that stand tall around us. Despite our discomforts and difficult circumstances we have comfort, hope, and an anchor for our souls in the person of Jesus Christ--God’s Redeemer. As believers we are like trees in the cold, dark days of winter--held steady by an inner strength and purpose, one wrought by God himself and sustained by his powerful grace. And like Jesus’ redemptive power, spring will come again to our land to refresh it and bring about new growth.
We might think of the growth and health of a tree only evident in its green leaves during the height of summer, or in its peeping buds of spring. But there is a life hidden inside the trees in wintertime and lesson for us: one of perseverance, hope, and faith. Every year this lesson comes to us in this visible way. The way of faith is often like this for believers. It is repetitive, dependable, and offers a picture of God’s purposes for us in the midst of life’s chaos.
You’ve probably seen a cross section of a tree. The outer protective bark covers what’s called the cambium layer, with the annual rings of sapwood underneath. The tree’s heartwood is found at the center of the sapwood ring. This center vein has little to do with the actual life of the tree, but it is what gives the tree its strength and staunchness. The life and place of growth of the tree is instead found at the tips of the twigs and the tips of the rootlets deep underground. Each year a tree pushes up higher, out farther, and down deeper. It also adds a layer of growth, like a thick coat of paint, over every branch, root, and the trunk. These coats of growth make up those concentric rings of sapwood--often unseen to the human eye unless the tree is cut.
That sapwood is connected to the roots and the roots have little rootlets that reach deep in the ground. Those rootlets find water in every season and that water is carried up as fertile food all the way up the trunk, through the sapwood, to the leaves on the tips of every twig. The growth cycle is done by midsummer, and the autumn leaf has actually already completed its work by the time it changes its color.
So, when those autumn leaves fall to the ground, one may wonder if a particular tree is even alive; it looks so pathetic and bare. But it is a mistake to think that the bitter cold and a snap frost is what causes the bright colors of summer to fade into the dull shades of brown. The color change is just the natural old age and death of the leaves.
During the moments leading up to leaf-fall, the petiole (little nub between the leaf and its twig) fills up with all that sugar-starch--which was once the color and life of the leaf--and is pulled back to the woody part of the branch. The tree’s life is pulled back and held fast in the sapwood every winter until spring, when it is pushed back to the outermost parts of the tree, causing growth again.
This, believer, is the mystery! A picture of our faith.
Do you feel the heaviness of winter and ache for spring? Does this feeling affect you spiritually? Do you wonder if there is life if you can’t feel it or see it? Do your circumstances tempt you to despair and fret about the future? Oh, that we all might remember the power of God and the life of Christ, safely secluded within our hearts. In and out of season, no matter the stage of life, faith, marriage, parenting, etc. Whether it be the springtime life of a new believer, or the summer of mid-life, or in the winter of having walked with Jesus for many decades: we can all rest in our beloved Savior and find our strength in Him. Like the sapwood of a tree, Christ is our life and strength, even if we cannot see or feel the beauty of this life in and around us. Like winter, it’s not always extraordinary or exciting. Life in Christ can yet be enjoyed in the steady, constant, even in the mundane. But! Spring will come again to all of us, in a final sense, and can come again and again to us daily if we intentionally look to him alone for rest.
So, dear believer, take heart! Look to Jesus at all times, but especially when you feel the oppressive nature of winter bringing on the dark night of the soul. Be enlivened by the word of God:
“We who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf…” Hebrews 6:18-20
Our refuge is found in the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ. No earthly thing or circumstance will bring us lasting hope and joy. Even in these dark days of winter we can find encouragement in the Spirit and in each other.
I write these words to you after a day of mothering that was a complete failure of sorts--I fumbled and fought and wish I could do it all over again. I say these words in the trenches of my own faith. I may not be in the winter of my life yet, but I swear each season has its own thorns and I’m brought to the uttermost of self every time I pause like this and think deeply about these things. In these times we need the word of God, we need to worship the risen Lord Jesus, and we need each other.
So, when the snow falls again, in its heavenly way--when the world is quiet and still, and we’re stuck inside with our people and our mess, I pray you will run to Jesus for strength, perseverance, and hope. Believer, find joy in God’s creative power on display, be patient in any affliction, and reach out for the sweet arms of fellowship within the church. I pray you sense God’s loving care surrounding you and that you are daily reminded that spring will come again in every sense!
This winter, look at the trees around you and remember the sapwood. It is still full of life. Life waiting, but life nonetheless. You too may be waiting, fit to burst, but I encourage you to trust in the Lord afresh. Don’t grow weary of doing good (Galatians 6:9).
Let us faithfully feast upon God’s word, sing of his faithfulness, and remember his love. Let’s be like the tree: firmly planted by streams of living water and full of life and hope in every season.
And, at the end of the day, you may just need to be comforted to know that the dark days of all time will turn to Noonday. Christ the King will come again in glory to save us in the final sense. On that Day, the name of Jesus will cause every knee to bow and every tongue to confess that He is Lord. All wrong will be made right and no tear will fall. On this Day we won’t feel the thorn or fear the darkness, because all of that will fully cease. We long for the sun to shine now, but can you imagine the final Noonday when we won’t need it because the light of God’s glory will be enough?
“Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.” Isaiah 60:20
“There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the LORD God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” Revelation 22:5
“And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning.” Job 11:17
And in another sense, this Day has already come. If you are in Christ, your noonday is now. Your life is full now, Christ fills it and sustains you every day. Even if you have to occasionally fight off sin and despair, because of that blessed Noonday that was at Calvary, you are actually always full of the life of Christ and you have much kingdom work to do, no matter your station or age. This is the Spirit’s work and life in us.
If you are in Christ, your noonday is now!
Let this blessed hope truly be enough to satisfy your longing heart. Lean in and be patient in whatever winter you find yourself. Set your mind on Jesus, not on your affliction, and trust him to enliven your life in every season.
Spring is coming.
“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
when he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe