By: Brian Harris
I’ve been talking about flourishing a fair bit lately, and recently someone asked, “Is it possible to flourish in winter?”
It’s a good question, and a lot depends on what is meant by flourishing. If it means being highly productive and in a state where everything goes well, presumably not. That’s not what happens in winter, for winter is the season of slowing down, staying indoors and sober reflection. It isn’t a “go and glow” time, and if you confuse winter for summer, frost bite is a short step away.
But perhaps the question could have been phrased differently. Instead of “Is it possible to flourish in winter?” how about asking, “Is it possible to flourish without winter?” Ah, that one opens a lot more possibilities.
Technically I imagine the answer is yes. There are plenty of youthful multi millionaires, many of whom have seen success after success and know little of the icy blasts of winter. How long their summer will last is another question, but there is nothing inherently impossible about achieving many successes early in life. Indeed it happens for almost all sporting stars, for most are past peak after 30, so if early success does not come, it is unlikely to come at all.
Any Full Life Has Its Winter Seasons
For all that, any full life has its winters. Actually if you are into seasons, 25% of life is winter while autumn takes another 25%. It certainly isn’t non stop, full steam ahead productivity. So back to the question, “Is it possible to flourish in winter?”
Here’s the thing. If I think about the deepest aspects of flourishing, it seems to me that most flourishing starts in winter. I’ve seen so many people do their deepest work when the trappings of success are stripped away and they ask the questions that matter and devote time to the significant.
I’m thinking of a series of pastoral conversations I had with a church member who died about 30 years ago. Though the discussions ended decades back, they left their mark. She had cancer and after some early optimism that it would be cured, she settled down to the slow realisation that her three score and ten years would be limited to around 57. Bucket list dreams changed with each new treatment failure, and in the end morphed into one. She had a very troubled relationship with her 3 children – probably the result of a messy marriage break up. She wanted to be at peace with each of them before “the shades lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and our work is done” – to quote Cardinal Newman’s magnificent prayer.
It started in the usual place. She explained how they had been so unfair to her and were being unreasonable and uncaring. The problem was theirs, the heartache hers.
Winters Force Us To Dig Deep
Except that is not at all the way they saw it. And they had more than a few examples to justify their stance. They felt a little trapped, as though their mother’s imminent demise was forcing them to overlook wrongs that had etched deep scars in their psyche. They had each decided they would allow the chill between them and her to thaw a little, but were neither looking for nor expecting much more. They anticipated a modest funeral with perhaps a tear or two for what had not been, and then to get on with their lives with her permanently deleted and forgotten. But somehow in the excruciatingly hard work that people sometimes do in winter, something changed. It was a deep down, gut wrenching reconciliation.
It involved seeing things differently and telling their stories within a new frame – one which made room for frailty, foolishness, error and fear. When all the anger and rage lifted they realised that the divide between hate and love is often astonishingly thin. What they had accepted as hate was really profound love that had been deeply wounded. Reconciliation and death were not far apart, but this was no longer a funeral of shallow grief. In a strange way it was one of deep gratitude – gratitude for winter, and the flourishing that sometimes only takes place in winter. Gratitude for reframed memories, memories which now empower and bring hope.
There is so much more I could say – but for today, I think this is enough. Whoever wrote Ecclesiastes was wise enough to note that there is a time and season for everything. There is indeed a time for winter. There is indeed a time to flourish…
Article supplied with thanks to Brian Harris.
About the Author: Brian is a sought-after speaker, teacher, leader, writer and respected theologian who has authored 6 books. After 17 years as principal of Perth’s Vose Seminary, Brian is now founding director of the AVENIR Leadership Institute, fostering leaders who will make a positive impact on the world.