We instinctively “know” there are life cycles and seasons. We observe people changing jobs or moving away. Healthy people become sick, and sick people heal. There are seasons in our lives where we experience prosperity, and other seasons we suffer hardships. Every year we witness the shifting seasons in nature. New friendships are created, other friendships falter. People are born, and people die.
Yet, we tend to struggle with periods of change especially if they herald winter. We attempt to ignore, delay, circumvent or even try to prevent the winter seasons of sorrow, hardship or loss.
Common axioms reflect this way of thinking. We learn that positive thinking leads to positive outcomes. Hard work produces results. It is simply “mind over matter”. If we think happy thoughts, life will be happy. Combining positive thinking with hard work will ensure summer seasons of prosperity.
This type of thinking is reflected wherever we turn. Politicians, athletes, businesses, celebrities, mentors, bosses and parents spout these axioms. They encourage a belief that we have ultimate control over our lives. That if we just try hard enough, we can control the seasons and prevent winters from coming.
Without question, there are some beneficial aspects to positive thinking. It can be extremely influential in helping people attain remarkable outcomes.
Positive thinking was a major theme running throughout my childhood years. My siblings and I were encouraged to believe that we could accomplish anything we put our minds to. As a teenager, living with this mindset, I aspired to make the Canadian National and Olympic Track Teams. Combining God given talent with positive thinking and hard work, I accomplished the goal of making Canadian National Track Team. And then, several years later, in 1980, I also made the Canadian Olympic Track Team selected to compete in the Moscow Olympics.
Once being named to the Canadian Olympic Team I was thrilled to receive my Olympic uniform and travel itinerary to Moscow. And then one morning, just weeks before we were to leave, I read in the morning newspaper that the Canadian Government was joining the United States led international boycott of the Olympic Games. The boycott was to protest the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The outcome – Canadian Olympic athletes were not allowed to compete in these Games, even though Canadian athletes had competed in every other Olympics including the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin, Germany while Hitler was in power.
The Olympic Boycott was not something I, or any of the other Canadian Olympic athletes, could have prepared for. Boycotts had not happened before. There had been no warning whispers to help prepare us.
At the very moment I believed myself to be in the height of summer, winter arrived unexpectedly. My Olympic dreams shattered.
It is so interesting how life works out. While I did accomplish my dream of running for Canada on the National and Olympic teams, becoming an Olympian and a member of the Canadian Olympic Association, I never actually got to compete in the Olympics Games.
I learned that there is a dangerous side to believing that positive thinking can guarantee desired outcomes. Sometimes they will. Yet other times, despite all our efforts, things unfold in unpredictable ways. Winters arrive unannounced. Life is interrupted by failures, illness, set backs, blindsides or unexpected circumstances. Phone calls can interrupt our lives in the middle of the night. Newspaper articles can end dreams.
In his book “Necessary Endings”, Dr. Henry Cloud discusses the inevitability of seasonal change. He references Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 to convey that though we can expect difficult times and endings, these are also times of fresh starts and renewed hope.
Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, advises that there is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven. There will be a time for birth and death, a time to laugh and a time to weep. Times to dance and times to mourn. Times we get the things we desire, and times our desires will be thwarted.
In the books and TV series, “The Game of Thrones”, there is an axiom that “winter is coming”. The idea is to appreciate and thrive in summer seasons, but to always be cognizant that there will be challenges and winter seasons ahead. While we should think positively, we also are prepared for the unexpected.
This healthier, realistic approach comes from recognizing that there will be an ebb and flow of seasons that we cannot always influence. Accepting that Greater Hands than ours controls this flow will help us prepare for, and survive, winter seasons.
When we are able to comprehend fully that there is a season for everything under the sun, we develop a capacity to accept changes with courage and strength, trusting that our plans and our lives are in God’s loving care. Even in bitter winters, we can be comforted in knowing that “God has great plans for us: plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future”. (Jeremiah 29:11)
Next blog: Part II: In the Winter Seasons