It is a cold morning as the boys and I walk to school. I bask in the complex hues of blues, yellows and grays in the early January sky. The boys bicker, one about the bulkiness of his archnemesis- winter coat, one about the slow speed of the others, the other about how unpleasant the bickering is coming from the first two… I sigh and point them to the majesty of the morning heavens.
They are underwhelmed.
We walk on like this for a short distance until I stop everyone and shake my head gently. “No. No more. The choice to exchange the gift of this ten minute walk for a burden of misery is too sad. We cannot do it. You will not be happy with your choice. This walk is a gift. Let’s just say ‘thank you’ for it and choose to see it differently.” They stand there looking up at me, heads cocked back slightly, resting on thick coat hoods. Blink, blink. And miraculously they respond beautifully. Noah nudges Sam, starts walking alongside him at slower pace and they begin chatting, laughing. Connecting.
The littlest heap of boy walks beside me- 75% boy, 25% coat. He sticks his hands in his pockets and engages me in conversation, the kind where he lowers his voice a bit because he feels the sound of it is more grown up than his four years, and he talks about things he knows I like to talk about. Maybe he knows he melts me from the inside out when he does this. Maybe he knows I have a weakness for his cuteness, perhaps to a fault. Perhaps. It’s not as if I have ever tried to sneak peeks of him at recess by going upstairs to the window that faces the back of their school. At 10:45. The window that happens to be in my shower. Yes, it’s not as if I have ever spent late morning minutes fully clothed in my shower, peering out the window for him and his brothers. That would just be ridiculous.
And he will be away again at school today, but for a few more minutes we share a sweet conversation. He looks up at me with his grown up face on as we walk, “Mom, I know why we go to church- to learn about God. Easy.” He smiles, proud of his brilliant deduction. I smile too and nod. “And I know why I go to school- to learn about God,” he says. And in the next breath he has moved on with a pointing finger, “Hey, look at that bush.”
He points to an interestingly shaped bush to our left, and I ask him, “Do you know why I look at that bush?” He squints curiosity with his little eyes, shakes his head. “To learn about God,” I say. He thinks I am joking at first, but I am not. Wasn’t it why I pointed them to the morning sky in the first place? It was not just to see pretty colors or some desperate attempt at distraction to derail the negativity. The Creator was speaking. The heavens were screaming “Glory!” And we were drowning it out with our grumbling, eyes fixed to the sidewalk.
And I try to fit the depth of that truth into a four year old’s mind as we talk. That there is always something to learn of the Maker in what He has made. I think Romans 1:20 in my mind: “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”
I think back to just days ago and how I was struck by this:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven – Ecclesiastes 3:1
And not just for trees but even for man, the Maker has ordained a time for everything. A time to be laid bare. To be stripped down from all that fills and even flourishes… and in the emptiness, wait quietly through soul winter for new growth to come.
This has not historically been something that has delighted me- this rhythm of spiritual seasons. Give me spring, give me summer, give me fall. Winter is punishment. Nobody prefers bare branches to the vibrant greens of spring or the crisp yellows and reds of autumn. And I have struggled in my years past to make peace with the spiritual winters that inevitably come. When there is nothing impressive or dazzling to show the rest of the world, no fruit to share, nothing that shouts “This woman is alive and thriving!” Winter has taken many forms in my life, and I have, at worst, resented and, at best, endured most of them.
Until the other day when I walked out of my house and saw the tree and whispered to myself, “What beautiful bare branches.”
And I reflected on the natural rhythm of life and its spiritual mirror in my soul and discovered that something had changed in my thinking. An awakening of sorts. An awareness that the bare branches are beautiful, not necessarily in themselves, but because their bareness is a Good Creator’s choice for them for a season. And in their bareness they speak of His eternal power and divine nature in their own unique way- a way that branches heavy with green leaf cannot. They have their own language to voice His wisdom and sovereignty. God has not asked to be seen through flourishing buds only. He also ordains to be seen through the lens of bareness too.
It is not punishment. It is revelation of glory. And I have wished it away a hundred times. But I want my boys to see God in everything.
I want to see God in everything.
To live under the anthem “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”
The whole earth. Bare branches too.