Repeatedly this week I have heard the ominous phrase, “dark winter.” It’s been spoken by doctors and health professionals on both sides of the border. It’s been echoed as a warning by politicians and sighed by nurses exhausted by the demand. The phrase alludes to the threat of increased sickness and death during this pandemic. But it also whispers foreboding for schools, small business, restaurants and nursing homes. This paragraph is not meant as a prediction nor is it intended as pessimistic collapse. It is a reflection of what many fear and feel.
I feel it too. The shadows of what is and what could be, creep upon us from the horizon. The cloud is a blend of several realities. We are living through a once in a lifetime pandemic. Since it is “once in a lifetime” no one can know how it feels until it comes. We’re not practiced for a pandemic. In addition, we all sense the loss of what has been familiar. Family visits, routine shopping, travel for respite, corporate worship and friends in your home - all of this has been altered. We grieve it. And just to make it deeper, this second wave overtakes us during the shortened days of winter. Even sunshine has hidden its face.
Now some of you will command me to cheer up. Voices tell me that the situation isn’t so bad, (in fact it is overblown). Others point to the nearness of vaccines and predict fiscal recovery. Some smile and jump over the present into the future, where everything will be fine. To these well-intentioned solutions, I respond that it is unwise to diminish the danger to grasp a magic bullet answer or to rush over a difficult season. Grief and pain must have their way. Perhaps that is the ultimate lesson in this.
We pray for the grace of God, assured that He is delighted to give it. His grace comes as protection for families, vaccines for the population and table provision for homes. But greater grace may come shaped as endurance through a dark winter. Rather than simply granting a panacea for the pandemic, God will teach us how to live in the shadows.
The Biblical pattern of God is not to remove the struggle but to carry us in it. Ask Joseph, Daniel or Hannah. So if I expect God to part the clouds at first hint of a shower, I do not understand His ways. But even greater, this is the manner of God for Himself. He doesn’t excuse Himself from the shadows. He bears our afflictions, grieves our losses and suffers our death. So, in place of instant rescues and simple solutions, He is what we need. We need Him to pace us through struggles without bitterness, divisions, accusations, delusions, or despair. The growing pains of a mature faith must face the winter, no matter how dark it seems. Undeniably, the sun will shine. This winter will pass. But, in the present shrunken light, He is near. That is enough.