It’s October with all the beauty of the season, and here in Colorado people drive miles into the mountains to see the golden aspens at this time of year. Although now a committed Coloradan, I admit that when we took our first mountain drive a few years ago at this season, I was not unduly impressed. I thought back to one autumn when I drove from Minneapolis to the Duluth area and was absolutely stunned into silence by the brilliant reds and golds surrounding blue lakes. Although I’ve now mellowed in the midst of aspen living and a few weeks ago rejoiced when I spotted a few fiery red maples sparkling among the golds on my drive to Breckenridge, this season still brings to mind the intensity of a Midwest color palette.
And then the other day I looked out the patio door to the tree in our condo complex “backyard.” This summer it has been heavily laden with lush green leaves, so heavy in fact that if the leaves had been fruit, the branches would have touched the ground. The leaves are still green even at this October date. Except for those on one branch. The day I looked, they were greenish-yellow. Today they are turning to gold while all the surrounding branches are still a rich green.
We all know that we live through seasons just as does nature. The “green” seasons find us full of energy and enthusiasm. “Winter” may mean times when we’re laid low with age, illness or just a sense of dullness. “Autumn” can simply be time to step back and evaluate the past, the present, and what we may need for the future.
But is it possible that in the midst of any one of those seasons, we’re not all green or all dormant? I recently read about a young woman who went through a two-year period of a dry, nearly-dead walk with God. She had been fully involved in ministry, busy in a satisfying marriage and family and consistent in her “quiet times.” Now however, the Bible was a closed book, church services—rich for others—were mere formality, prayer was babble at best. One of her branches, that deeply spiritual part of her, was bare of leaves.
Saint John of the Cross described it as “the dark night of the soul.” A 19th century Carmelite nun reportedly told her friends, “If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into.” But it isn’t just our Catholic friends who describe these times. Charles Spurgeon wrote of one period, “my spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for.” Revered missionary pioneer, William Carey, sometimes suffered what one biographer called “sheer black depression.”
St. John of the Cross became an important figure in Christian history through his poetry and his studies on the growth of the soul. The Carmelite nun? We look to her as an example of simplicity and practicality in following Christ. And we know of the faithful ministries of Spurgeon and Carey. The woman described above? During her own two-year dark night of the soul, she was surrounded by caring Christian friends who never once accused or “preached at” her. When she couldn’t see God on her own, they became living pictures of Him for her. She wrote that slowly but surely her life returned not to its previous spiritual vitality, but to a walk with and trust in her Heavenly Father unbelievably deeper than anything ever experienced before.
In the midst of our seasons, God is there. Although we can’t feel or recognize Him, He is providing all that is necessary for vibrancy to return. He doesn’t leave. He doesn’t accuse. He waits for the time He chooses to again bring forth fruit. Gold or red leaves or luscious apples or juicy pears. Or life and ministry indescribably rich.