Kathy and I stopped to stare at the snow drift across the highway. It was 5:30 p.m. and the snow was drifting 8 feet off the ground in places. More snow was predicted for the rest of the night and into the next day as well. This was Highway 93, the major artery through northwest Montana and we were cross-country skiing down the middle of it. We feared no cars coming up on us; not even the snowplows were going out in this horrendous storm. So what were we doing out here?
My wife worked as a nurse on a heart Telemetry unit at the Kalispell Regional Medical Center. They worked 12 hour shifts and hers started in a half hour. The phone lines were not working, so Kathy couldn’t call the hospital to find out if they were expecting her. But after looking at the closed highway, we were fairly certain they did. The nurses working these 12 hour shifts could not go home until they were replaced. No one was driving in or out of town at all, so we figured these nurses who had been looking after patients all day would have to continue in that vein for another 24 hours. That’s when I got a bright idea.
We only lived about 6 blocks from the hospital, straight down Highway 93. We had done cross-country skiing for years and now we could put good vocational use to the sport. Since we had both grown up in Canada, we were well stocked with all the accouterment clothing for frigid weather, including long, thermal underwear. We layered on the garments, pulled on our ski boots and headed out the door. It took us almost a half hour to navigate the drifts and bare spots on the road in near zero visibility, but we did arrive at the hospital doors right as her shift was supposed to start. As we sloshed down the hallway, the nurses on duty just stared at us as if we were living snowmen. Kathy was able to relieve a couple of them, allowing them a few hours sleep. Over the next 24 hours, they were able to keep spelling each other off in 3 hour increments, thereby giving some of the most medically fragile patients the best care.
The next day the road was still closed, so we retraced our route through the snow and arrived home from our winter’s adventure. Never have I enjoyed a night by the fireplace with hot tea more than that one. We sat there glancing at the blizzard outside, secure that we had conquered the elements. We could now take a worthy rest, knowing the job was done well. I want to use that as the picture for our final study in passion: Winter Passion.
As winter approaches each year, I look forlornly at my 32 rose bushes in the yard. I hate this part, but it is so necessary if I want an abundance of roses next year. I usually set aside three days to begin the process of hacking, cutting, shaping and almost annihilating each bush until all that is left is a shadow of their summer selves. This pruning process demands a ruthless mindset; I cannot afford to be namby-pamby with them. If I leave suckers, weak shoots, dead branches or crossthatched pieces in the way of the final product, all I will have is leaves and branches the next summer and no roses to enjoy. To get through this stage of the rose bush cycle, I attack each bush with gusto. If the dead wood has to go, I’m not going to shirk and complain.
In Ecclesiastes 3, the Preacher Koheleth tells it this way:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,a time for war and a time for peace.
9 What does the worker gain from his toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on men. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time.
Look at some of the entries together: “A time to die…a time to uproot…a time to kill…a time to tear down…a time to mourn…a time to give up…a time to throw away….a time to hate…a time for war”. These are not everyone’s favorite parts of the list. But they describe events and things people feel acutely emotional about. No one can escape passion at the death of a loved one. No one gets out of the intensity of tearing something apart. We don’t think of these times as good or agreeable, but they are decidedly passionate. In v. 11 Koheleth even claims that “He has made everything beautiful in its time”. The word “beautiful” in Hebrew means “appropriate or timely”. It is wonderful to feel passion for the beginning of things and the growth of those same things and even the full completion of the course. But perhaps the complete passion comes when we decide to tear something down, kill it, let it go, uproot it and declare war upon it.
Jesus turned over the money-changers and cursed a fig tree. He cried out with a loud voice “It is Finished”. He and the martyr Stephen both gave up their spirits to God and then died. The death of the martyrs is the foundation of the Church. Only when you allow and encourage things to end and come to their logical completion can you then begin to see the beginnings of new growth. In turn, the time of winter is when we rest from our labors. Winter is Sabbath; Winter is Rest; Winter is letting go; Winter is being still and knowing that He is God. If you cannot enjoy that passion, the passion of bringing things to an end when they need to be brought to an end, then you have not experienced every aspect of passion.
In 1992, I spoke at a Ladies retreat. It took me five hours to drive there and my car broke down on the way. I spoke four times that weekend, including one meeting for husbands and wives. At that meeting, I gave an altar invitation and several men surrendered their lives to Christ. As I drove home from the weekend, I realized they hadn’t paid me for speaking – not even my travel expense. I waited several weeks for a check to arrive, but I never received one. During one time alone with God, he encouraged me to let it go and not carry it on my shoulders. I was able to relinquish that wounded feeling and it felt wonderful to let it go.
Six years later, my wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. We went and stayed at a beautiful but expensive Bed and Breakfast. It was way out of our price range, but we wanted to splurge. The B and B had free breakfast, but they also had a full dining room for all meals. The meals were also expensive, but as I said, we were going all out. On Sunday afternoon, the owners of the place asked Kat and I if we could eat the evening meal just with them. That was a curious request, but we were delighted to do that. They really put on the ritz for us and we wondered how much that was going to cost us. During the meal, the wife asked if I remembered her or her husband. I told her they did not ring a bell with me. Then they told me his testimony. They had lived in another part of the state years earlier. She had been invited to go to a women’s retreat. On the Saturday night, her husband joined her at the banquet. That night I gave an invitation and he came forward and received Christ. That weekend saved their marriage and gave them a ministry together in this beautiful bed and breakfast.
Then they told us the real reason we were at dinner that night. God wanted them to give us that entire week at the Bed and Breakfast for free as a token of their appreciation. As they shared this with me, I heard the Lord say in my heart “Paid in Full”. As they prayed for us after dinner, the husband had a sense from God that this was going to be a week of letting go. Kat and I both resonated with that prayer. As we talked later, we both revealed we had been feeling a sense of needing to let something go. The more we talked day after day, the closer we came to a hard reality: Our 11 year ministry at the church we currently served was now coming to a close. We had come there when they were 50 people and now there were almost 700. Yet, God was telling both of us we were to leave there and go somewhere new. Eventually, months later we realized God was calling us to plant a new church. But the Winter passion consisted of Kathy and I surrendering the church at that Bed and Breakfast. We felt both rested and sad. We were going to have to say goodbye to a lot of dear people. We were going to be pruned. But it had to be.
What things have to come to an end in your life during this season? What things do you need to kill, tear up, relinquish, escape? How are you supposed to scatter your stones, give up or throw away? If you do it, do it with fervor and gusto. Embrace the Winter passion and ski down the center of that deserted highway with flare.