The Silent Depths of Winter's Snow

Photo Credit: Nathan Fertig

Photo Credit: Nathan Fertig

Like anyone else, my life has had its share of seasonal changes.

There was the long sunny summer of childhood whose days were shadowed only by a few passing clouds. The autumnal years of college and graduate school, a colorful and occasionally chilly transition into adulthood. And of course there was that one glorious spring when I fell madly in love, and the world seemed to be in full bloom.  

These seasons were all marked by the usual changes in weather: pop-up showers, blustery winds, blistering heat, and even a few inches of snow from time to time.

But nothing, I mean nothing, compares to the blizzard of 2012.

In late July of that year I was diagnosed with brain cancer, which marked the beginning of my life’s first dangerously severe winter storm. The cool chill of autumn turned into the bitter cold of winter overnight. There was no time to prepare, no time to get out the wool socks and stock the pantry.

Blustery winds blew in frigid gusts of air so icy I was forced to batten down the hatches immediately, without even a book or puzzle to keep me company. On the morning of my surgery, there was no choice but to settle in for the next best thing: a long winter’s nap.

As the drugs wore off and I found myself roused from medically induced hibernation, I realized that my mental landscape had been totally transformed. My whole world had been buried in several feet of snow, and my shovel left locked in the shed.

Much like snow, cancer had a way of muffling all the sound and mental chatter I was used to hearing. Anesthesia and heavy pain killers kept me unconscious for the better part of a month, and when I woke up, my mind was silent.

Completely. Silent.

There were no long lists to make or days to plan. No meals to prep or dishes to dry. No thoughts to ponder or questions to consider. No emotions to process or relationships to analyze.

Nothing but empty space and time unfurling precariously in front of me.

I heard people talking to me, mostly nurses and therapists intent on dragging me through the day. I could talk to them, and I understood where I was and what was going on. But that was it. There was no thought beyond the surface of whatever was immediately in front of me.

It was enough. More than I could have asked for, really. But there was an emptiness inside me like a hole in my head. Something had been disconnected, my wires literally frayed and cut loose, and there was no telling if or when they might get repaired. Much like those Northerners who are all but snowed in for months at a time, I had no choice but to wait it out until spring.

I was so mentally numb after brain surgery that for weeks I didn’t pray. The thought never even occurred to me. God was strangely silent too.

There were no near-death revelations or messages to bring to the world. No words of encouragement or spiritual pep talks. My brain had been hollowed out, my senses dulled. I found myself functioning only on the most basic level, with no spiritual awareness whatsoever.

For many people, this can feel like being left out in the cold, an icy absence of God in the time of greatest need. For me, it was actually quite the opposite.

Ours was a companionable silence. God had wrapped me in a thick, warm blanket to insulate me from what was going on outside. We sat huddled together watching the snow swirl around us, and He allowed me to experience something entirely new.

My vacant mind brought me an inexplicable serenity I had never known, at the time I needed it most.

God mercifully blessed me with this blinding silence to make space for the healing I so desperately needed.

All the energy my weakened body could muster was dedicated to crawling forward, focused only on moving from one moment to the next. The background noise of my inner chatter, the daily anxieties and mindless meandering, were covered over with winter’s white noise, leaving me with a sense of calm that I gratefully welcomed without question as I patiently awaited the spring.

One of the most beautiful parts of winter is all the silent activity that remains hidden while the season subtly changes. It is during winter that the earth prepares itself for spring. There is tremendous growth and change that remains unseen for weeks, and even then, its emergence can be slow.

I love early spring, when the buds first begin to appear, almost unnoticeable as they poke out from their branches, taking their first breaths while there’s still a chill in the air. Rain soaked flower beds are little more than muddy pits, but the seeds beneath their surface are busy germinating, creating the roots that will sustain their ascent to the light beyond the surface.

The birds begin to move, joyously singing as they return from warmer climes to herald the arrival of a new season. And as the grass grows green and the flowers bloom in their sweet glory, winter’s dark days are all but forgotten, fading memories to be put away until next year.

Jesus and I emerged from our winter hiding place together, walking hand-in-hand out into the sun. We were newly energized and just as close, if not closer, than we had ever been before, and this beautiful transformation happened in complete silence.

No matter who we are, we will all experience life’s winter months, times when we feel a strange vacancy and even God’s silence. But I’ve learned to see these cold winter months within their seasonal context: a necessary time of dormancy that precedes renewal of energy and resurgence of growth.

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.

Ecclesiastes 3:1