I knew it was coming.
I’d received a surprising reprieve for the entirety of December, but I knew it was coming. And then this morning, as I eyed the weather forecast and contemplated the high of thirty degrees predicted for today – as I glanced outside and saw my car windshield frosted over – I realized it came overnight while I was asleep:
I’m not happy about it. Those people longing for a white Christmas back in December? I wasn’t one of them. I’m not a summer girl, either. Give me Ireland’s cool rain and forty-degree days. Give me the Thanksgiving I spent in San Francisco when all I needed to wear was a long sweater.
To me, winter mostly means inconvenience. It means having to take an extra half-hour to heat my car and scrape the windshields. It means layering on five or six extra pieces when I go on my walks and picking my way around frozen puddles and snow-crusted rocks. It means blearily watching weather forecasts and praying away the snowstorms that threaten my ability to drive. It means dry skin and chapped lips and brown dead grass.
Which is why I have trouble being grateful for it. Sure, there are moments of wonder. Sometimes the quiet that follows a snowstorm stirs my heart. I like watching the way ice glitters on the trees, or the still white tableau of the countryside near where I live in the middle of February. But mostly winter represents irritation and frustration; it’s the three-to-four-month period I wish away while waiting for spring to get here.
The Bible tells us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). I often hear this verse preached in conjunction with trials and tragedies. Be thankful in the hurt, our pastors encourage us. Be thankful through the pain. Be thankful in the loss. And those are necessary sermons, and true ones. But I am not nearly so high- or nobly-minded, and today I am having trouble just being thankful for the winter.
I don’t want to be thankful for the things that slow me down, or that irritate me, or that inconvenience me. I don’t want to be thankful for the things that take extra time to do. I don’t want to be thankful for everything that gets in the way of me living my life and enjoying the day.
And then I pause, because it strikes me that being thankful in the winter is good practice for loving people – especially the people I’m not particularly fond of, or the people who don’t care to be cared for. Because loving people will slow you down. It can inconvenience you. It will mostly certainly take up your time and your energy, and it will probably get in the way of you living your life.
I suspect that God wants to cultivate gratitude in us not just because He likes being thanked – though He does – but also because gratitude in all circumstances gets us in the practice of hammering away at our natural inclinations and habits. It’s not any more natural to be thankful for something that irritates you than it is to love someone whom you don’t even know or whom you may not like – and so of course the two things go hand in hand.
The work of life, for the Christian, is the work of love. And the work of love is sometimes difficult, inconvenient, frustrating, and barren. To be grateful for the winter, to say praise while chipping away at the frost on your windshield, to breathe thanks through a scratchy woolen scarf, is practice for that. If we can frame our gratitude in such a way – as practice for the greater life of love that we are to live – then the irritating inconveniences of a season, of a moment, of a lifetime, become holy.
May we continue to struggle toward gratitude – even as the temperature plunges.