Once a little girl lived with a cult that kept her locked inside, chained to her computer all day, hungry and naked. She couldn’t do any serious study. In fact, she couldn’t do anything but play games online. In her favorite game, she got to be a farmer and grow beautiful fruit trees. She figured out how to work the game so at least some trees were in bloom or ready to harvest at all times.
Finally, the police came and freed her from the cult’s hands. After many scary, confusing days, one morning, her greatest dream came true. A farmer took her home to live with him forever. On a real farm! The girl was so excited when she spotted the apple trees. She looked forward to the leaves growing back, the flowers blooming, and the apples appearing. Should only take a couple hours.
So, after lunch, she asked her new dad if they could go pick the apples.
Her new dad sent her a curious look. “Beloved, it’s winter.”
So? The girl wondered. In her game, she’d harvested her apples at least six times a day in winter, too.
Her dad let her go outside and explore the farm, and the girl ran straight to the apple orchard. To her dismay, they still looked as sad and barren as they had this morning.
The girl screamed and ran crying to her new dad. “They’re dead! The apple trees didn’t bloom and bear fruit. They’re dead We need to cut them down and plant new ones!”
“Beloved, our fruit trees aren’t evergreens. They sleep through our cold, dark winters.”
“Well, they need to wake their lazy butts up, blossom, and make the apples appear already.”
“It doesn’t work like that, beloved.”
“Of course it does! I’m an expert farmer in my favorite game. I know all about farming!”
Her dad restrained his amused grin and hugged her. “Come with me.” Her dad led her out to the apple orchard and lifted the child up so a branch was at her eye-level. “See here? See these tiny little buds?”
The girl scrutinized the seemingly lifeless apple tree branch. It did have tiny little brown buds.
“Those, beloved, are our asleep apple trees, growing our apples. It’ll look like no apples are growing if you check them every few hours or even every few days, but they are growing.”
“Why so slow? What’s wrong with them? What can I do to make them grow faster?”
“Nothing, beloved. This is life, not a game. Real growth is not instantaneous. Nor does it only take mere hours for the fruit they’re growing to appear and mature. There is no hack that will give you real apples ripe for harvest year-round, not as cold as our winters get. I know it’s hard to be patient, it’s hard to see real growth happening, but slowly, day by day, the season will change, the days will get longer and warmer. In spring, the apple trees will blossom. Their fruit will mature by harvest time, this fall. Then we’ll pick our apples and wait on the Lord through the next cold, dark winter.”
We may laugh at this poor child’s absurd expectations for real trees growing real fruit. But many of us react similarly when God leads us or a loved one into a spiritual “harsh winter.” We don’t understand what God is doing, especially when the season lasts far longer than we think it should.
It can be hard to tell on a daily basis if a soul enduring a harsh winter is in fact still alive and growing. Let’s be slower to condemn and cut down. Instead, let’s be more loving and encouraging like the farmer in our story. Stay with the Lord through the harsh winter of the soul. I don’t know why you’re going through this. But I know he is with you and still at work in you, even when you can’t see it. And all you have to do is let him. Faith itself is a gift. Just cry out to the Lord and ask. It likely won’t be instantaneous, but spring will come.