Winter Seasons of the Soul
Have you ever experienced a winter season of the soul? You know, a season of life andministry where people are counting on your leadership, yet you have little to give. The type of
season where you are leading songs, teams, and congregations, all while struggling to lead
yourself. Winter seasons of the soul can come at any time and for a variety of different reasons;
at times winter comes because our souls need space to grieve a loss, at other times we are
barren because we are burned out, and yet there are also those times where, for unknown
reasons, we just feel cold and numb to the world around us. Seasons like these are some of the
most difficult to navigate as a leader.
So how do we navigate seasons where we feel empty, barren, and fruitless? How do we
remain faithful during these winter seasons of the soul?
Here are a few insights and practical thoughts I’ve gleaned from my own journey through winter
First, recognize your winter season.
I am writing this during actual winter. All of the grass has turned dusty brown, the trees have
emptied themselves of their leaves, and the cold darkness of the night outlasts the warming light
of the day. The physical world didn’t just snap into winter overnight, it transitioned slowly from
Summer to Autumn, then from Autumn to Winter.
The same is often true for us as humans. Most of us don’t just wake up one morning drastically
more empty and barren than we were the day before, rather, we get there slowly over time.
Sometimes it’s nothing more than a long season of pouring out and not being spiritually refilled
that leads us into winter. Maybe we’ve unknowingly prioritized doing things for Jesus over
spending time with Jesus that’s led us into this barren place?
No matter how we’ve gotten there, the point is that we learn to recognize this internal changing
of seasons when it comes and name it for what it is. When we do this we are intentionally
choosing to accept the season that we are in, rather than ignoring it.
Recognizing a winter season is the first major and necessary step to healthy navigation
because the winter requires something different from us than other seasons do, it begs us to
slow down and live with careful attention.
Second, winter is a season of purification and preparation.
For so many years I couldn’t see the benefits of the winter. Outside of trips to the mountains for
snow skiing, it just seemed like everything was dormant and everyone couldn’t wait for Spring to
come. And then, a few years ago, I walked through a long, arduous season of life and ministry
that challenged me to my core. For months and months I experienced grief, hurt, confusion, and
ministry fatigue beyond anything I’d ever walked through. I was in the middle of a winter season
before I even knew what to call it. During that season I began to receive insight on the
necessities of winter. There were two things in particular that I learned about winter that directly
correlated to my own life.
First, during the winter, certain weeds and invasive plants die off, otherwise they would
consume the landscape. And second, the frigid temperatures of winter cause most plants and
trees to move into a dormant season where they begin to store up the energy needed for the
future growing seasons.
From the outside, it appears that nothing is happening during winter seasons, but on the inside
everything is changing.
The same is true for you and me. This is why it can be so helpful to prayerfully consider the
winter's purpose for your life. What I can almost guarantee for all of us is that the winter is
simultaneously purifying us and preparing us for what’s ahead. Like plants and trees in winter,
we too have “weeds” in our lives. Various sins and unhealthy patterns of living are like invasive
species seeking to overtake us. During winter seasons of the soul everything that is not life-
giving should gain our attention. If we are prayerful and attentive during these seasons, the Lord
can use the winter to purify us. He can replace pride with humility. He can bring healing to our
deepest wounds. Our job in the process is to recognize where we need purifying, and then
prayerfully ask the Lord to make us more like His Son, Jesus, during this season.
But it’s not just purification that the winter offers, the Lord also uses winter to prepare us for
what’s ahead. The explosion of new life and color that fills the earth during Springtime is stored
up and nurtured during the winter. If you find yourself in a winter season of the soul, you are in
a prime position to also prayerfully consider what purposes the Lord has for your future. Take
time and discern what God is building into you during this season. Is there a new spiritual
discipline that you need to develop during the winter? Is there a topic you need to study during
this season? Do you need to learn how to slow down and rest? If you can prayerfully
determine the purposes the Lord is preparing you for, you can embrace the winter season as a
season of preparation for the Spring that is to come.
Last, faithfully await Spring, don’t rush.
If there is one thing that’s true about winter, it’s that it seems to last forever. The same can be
true about winter seasons of the soul. Every one of us wants to move out of winter and into
Spring. We all want to move past preparation and into the event that we’ve been preparing for.
A word of encouragement for all of us here is to faithfully wait, don’t rush. When we rush into the
future, we often fail to receive all that God has for us in the season that we are in. For most of
us, during winter we are learning about things like patience, limitations, dependence, and
abiding in Christ. All of which take time. Large amounts of time. You can’t microwave patience.
It just doesn’t work like that. The same is true for all spiritual virtues, the process can’t be
rushed, it requires our attention over long amounts of time. But in the end, it produces a result
that is more than worth the wait. In the words of the Apostle Paul “suffering produces
endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does
not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy
Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:3-5)
While winter seasons of the soul might not be as fun or fruitful as seasons of Spring and
Summer, they are equally important and necessary. If you find yourself living through a winter
season of the soul, I encourage you to slow down, name your season, discern God’s work in
your life, and attentively commit to everything the Lord has for you in this season. If you do that,
you’ll find yourself well prepared when Spring arrives.