The change of seasons can be a teacher. Both the Old Testament (Ps 8, 19, 139) and Native American spirituality listen to and hear God’s instruction through nature much better than we do in contemporary western culture. Let’s listen a minute to the life giving word God may be speaking through the metaphor of seasonal changes. Not only in nature, but in our experience of change.
Do you ever feel the seasonal loss of your once treasured strengths, gifts, or graces? Perhaps you’re a mother whose kids are off to school. Ever feel like school has sort of taken your place in some ways, that with your kids’ growth you’ve somehow lost part of who you are? Perhaps you built a business and have retired. Ever feel the new owners have forgotten their origins? Perhaps you’re a teacher or counselor or mentor. Your goal has been the independent thinking and living of those whom you nurtured, but it can feel you’ve worked yourself out of a job and your own significance if that goal is reached, yes? Perhaps you were once an outdoorsperson who taught, led, and shaped others to enjoy hiking, backpacking, climbing. But the time has come that you have difficulty walking for even an hour in your neighborhood.
Each of those losses can be accompanied by great gain; every Fall and Winter have the following Spring and Summer. You get to see your children grow up to become who they are, not clones but unique individuals. You get to pass on the legacy of your business. You get to see those you’ve loved and nurtured in teaching or counseling grow into the joy of their own identity. And as you sit by hearth at home your mind can wander the trails and mountains where you helped others come alive to God’s world. The change of seasons is necessary to open the door of the future. There can be no Spring without Fall and Winter. Death is necessary for resurrection to have meaning.
This seasonal cycle of loss and gain can become, in Christ, growth over time toward the triumph of grace unmixed with grief, the increase of purpose and significance unmixed with diminished worth, the gain of the glory of God even as the glories of your past life ebb away.
John the Baptist got this. He had been the big dog of first century prophets, speaking truth not only to the poor but to power as well. Jesus Himself said of John that there wasn’t a greater person born among women than John the Baptist. But the season of John’s heyday changed, dramatically so, ending in his execution by Herod. John’s disciples didn’t like the changes one little bit, complaining that Jesus seemed to be diminishing John’s significance. John’s response is a door that opens to the glory of seasonal change in our lives as well as in John’s relationship with Jesus. He said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” Jn 3:30).
There are at least two powerful layers to John’s witness and its application to our changing life seasons:
First, the glory and grandeur of John’s ministry and of our lives is not that we be the big dog but that our lives point to Jesus as Lord, Jesus as the Big Dog, Jesus as the one to whom all the meaningful seasons of our lives point. When our children grow toward maturity in Christ, that is the glory of having been parents. When our businesses continue to offer an expanded legacy of service, that is the fulfillment of every business founder’s work. When those we have loved and mentored, in classroom, counseling, or on the trails toward mountain summit, continue on when we ourselves have lost the strength to teach or lead, that is the continuation of our love, our teaching, our walk. When Christ increases in those we have loved, our lives do not loose in that season of change as much as they take on readiness for the Spring to come, the resurrection of our lives into union with the One toward whom our lives have been witness, and the transformation of our past glories into new discoveries of God’s glory. Just as John the Baptist, even in death as well as in the decreased scope of his earthly ministry, was moving toward resurrection into the Christ whose increase gave him joy.
Second, the season of change in John’s life, from prophetic notoriety to prison and death, led to a new and exalted intimacy with Jesus (Matt 11:2-15). John asked whether Jesus was the Messiah; he was not just answered with a simple “Yes, I am.” John’s heart was steeped in the Old Testament witness concerning Messiah who heals the lame, gives sight to the blind, cleanses the leper, even raises the dead. Jesus was saying in effect to John’s heart, “Your work and your life are fulfilled, John; enter into the joy of your Lord!” The season of change in John’s life brought the gift of a new intimacy, a new Spring, a new life of love for and with Jesus his Messiah.
Our lives, too, with all their changing seasons, painful though those sometimes be, can in Christ grow continually toward increasing intimacy with and love for and from Jesus Christ our Lord. If we can by God’s Spirit become willing to let go of our past glories and embrace the Lord who continually desires to increase in us, we can not loose. We may feel for a time as the school bus drives away or the retirement occurs or the friendship evolves that we have lost the whole world. But look again! There stands Jesus at the end of our change of season, with outstretched hand, beckoning us as He did John the Baptist to enter into a new level of joy, of intimacy with Him, of love for God, for ourselves, for others, and for life. And embraced in His call is a new relationship with past glory in which the past is not even past (Faulkner), but fulfilled in the union of all things in Christ. Can your hear Him calling through the falling leaves? He is whispering your name and mine, singing “Come home, come home, you who are weary come home...to me.”