Every season has its beauties. And every season has its hardships, too. Gardeners know this, and as cultivators we learn this. The secret to the well-cultivated life – a life intentionally tending what is good, true, and beautiful within it – lies somewhere in the midst of that tending and the weathering of hardships that come with the seasons. To cultivate means we must both nurture and defend, plant and fight.
Sometimes the greatest beauty we cultivate is not what we plant, but what we overcome to cultivate at all.
By deepest inclinations, as cultivators we want to make beauty, and live peaceful, happy lives. We want to have rich, love-steeped relationships. We want to enjoy lives saturated with goodness. Of course we want these and we ought to. The shape of what is good, true, and beautiful for our lives is planted in us before we are created. It is the longing in us that cannot be ignored except to the peril of our souls.
“For we are God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].” Ephesians 2.10, AMPC
We could take a whole season to meditate on this verse. Or a whole life. But even a tiny understanding of these words gives courage and hope. We are called to good works which God planned ahead of us and to paths He has already prepared so that we can walk in them. Paths that not only can we live out but have been made to! We are made to do good!
Comfort and Courage
It is good and needful for me to really look at this: God Himself Authored this great Story’s unfolding and He has written its ending already. The outcome of it all belongs to Him. He made us promises, and He will keep them. He began the work, and He will finish it.
I am comforted and take courage again when I remember this: the battles I face are not really won by me anymore than the weather outside of me are controlled by me. All that belongs in greater hands than mine. Sometimes I find that very hard to remember and even harder to accept. Grave hardships, pitch-black nights, and long bleak seasons remind me of the true condition we are living in all the time, whether we notice it or not. Right now it really is winter – the period of dormancy and waiting- and we are waiting for Spring.
So how do we weather winter – the season that often seems the hardest to bear – especially when it takes root in our hearts, and not just the season around us? How do we cultivate all that is good, true, and beautiful in it? To cultivate anything, we need tools and we need some know-how. What works? What makes a difference in getting through and even flourishing in difficult conditions? Here are the tools I’ve used hard this season. Perhaps these will resonate with you, too.
This winter I have been absolutely driven to remember and practice feeding on God’s Word every single day, like my life depends on it. I need to be hiding myself in it, dressing myself in it, setting my sights on it. There is no substitute. The only thing that truly lights the darkness for me and reminds me where to stand, is His written and living Word. There are a thousand beauties that give Him praise – even in dark places – but there is nothing so beautiful as His Word.
More perhaps that any another year, I have been reminded this winter that I am not made to be alone. I need the communion of saints. I need fellowship, even if the connecting points are far flung. Of all seasons, it is easiest to isolate in winter. And most damaging. Fellowship is like water and it keeps us alive. Roots that receive no water in winter eventually die from dehydration. I am the same.
Never more earnestly do I need to cultivate my choices than when life is hard. In every season I need to cultivate my choices, but never so much as in winter. What lies beneath the ground now, out of sight, is what will be coming up in spring. My choices of attitude, of belief, of obedience, and of words are what I am planting. These are the seeds I tend as a cultivator. I need to select very carefully because what I plant now is precisely what I will grow and reap. What I choose to focus on and choose to remember are what I choose to grow and experience.
When I am weakest, when I feel the most weary, especially when I feel lost, I go backward in order to go forward. I go back to something that I know to be True. I go back to retrieve something essential. Memory. In Scripture we are called to remember again and again. To make memorial. In a very real way, that is what all gardens are and all cultivating is for. In cultivating a garden or a life, we must also curate memory. We cultivate remembrance of where we have come from, what we are made for, and where we are going. And in some deep way, perhaps deeper than words, we remember why.
Finding Comfort & Taking Courage
I am comforted and take courage again when I remember this: the battles I face are not really won by me anymore than the weather outside of me are controlled by me. All that belongs in greater hands than mine. Sometimes I find that very hard to remember and even harder to accept. Grave hardships, pitch-black nights, and long bleak seasons remind me of the reality that we are living in all the time, whether we notice it or not. It really is winter and we are waiting for Spring.
And yet, God Himself began this Story, of which we are each tiny but precious parts. He Authored this Story’s unfolding and has written its ending. The outcome of it belongs to Him. He is Good and His plans for us are for good. He made us promises, and He will keep them. He began the work, and He will finish it.
“And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you.” Philippians 1.6, AMPC
It is on this ground – frozen and silent as it may be – that we can welcome winter and the waiting.
A note about the featured image: I made this image this winter during one of the darkest and most difficult times of my past 20 years. When things looked worst, I went out early in the pre-dawn hours of morning and was greeted by this magnificent constellation of wonder between the moon and the stars. In all its beauty I felt God singing to me. I leaned into Him, hid in the shelter of His wings, and waited for the darkness to pass. It is passing but the wonder of this time with Him remains. I pray you have such moments of your own and that you, too, live to see the beautiful expression of Psalm 27 fulfilled before your eyes – “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is the Founder & Executive Director of Cultivating & The Cultivating Project. She has served in executive management, church leadership, boards, and Art & Faith organizations over 30 years. She & her husband Peter have parented 7 children, & have a flock of beloved grandchildren. Lancia loves garden and website design, beautiful typography, road trips, being read aloud to by Peter, & cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.