The Seasonality of Life

One observation that has struck me lately is how life comes in seasons. Probably the most famous passage in the book of Ecclesiastes speaks to the “times” or “seasons” of human life (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Another book which emphasizes seasons is Song of Solomon. The book recounts a love story between a man and woman who are moving towards marriage. Although people keep trying to hold them back from one another, the time is right for them to pursue love: “winter” is gone and they are now in the “springtime” of love (Song 2:10-13). God also very literally wove seasons in the very fabric of reality (Gen. 1:14). Therefore, healthy human living would seem to be living which follows along with the patterns and rhythms of life. In other words, human flourishing would look like living appropriately to what “season” someone is.

And yet, it seems that we’ve lost all notions of seasonality in life as a culture.

One example of the lack of seasonality is our culture’s approach to work. Before the Industrial Revolution, work had a very specific rhythm and pace to it since most people worked the long. There was seedtime and harvest. There were times to work very diligently preparing and then stretches of time where very little work could be done due to winter. Things began to shift, however, on the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Work could now be done all year round, because work was focused on managing machines rather than tending to the land. Things have gotten even worse today with the rise of the internet and the digital communication devices. Work can now be done almost anytime, any place. Work has made its way in our bedrooms and onto our vacations. It evades and pervades almost every aspect of lives if we let it. And most work these days unfolds with a relentless pursuit of more. There are little, if any, “down times” or “slow seasons” at the company. Work occurs through a never-ending stream of tasks, projects, and demands. There is almost no “seasonality” to it.

Now, I am not trying to paint a picture of “farming good! Computer bad!” The Industrial Revolution and the onset of the internet and digital technologies has brought abundant good into the world. If people can become slaves to the relentless grind of knowledge work, they can also become enslaved to the need to work the land to survive. God did have to institute the Sabbath for the people of Israel after all (Exod. 20:8-11). My point is simply this: if you don’t work hard at creating some rhythms to your work life, it can come at you at a very unnatural pace. Even mainstream thinkers are picking up on the idea that work should unfold in certain seasons.

Another area where I see our culture’s lack of seasonality is aging. The aging process seems all jumbled up today. Adolescents and children seem to be encouraged to “grow up” and encounter things beyond their maturity level, while older people are encouraged to look and act younger than they really are. I see men in their 70s in the gym with their hair died, all tanned up, and 3% body fat and bulging veins and muscles because of the testosterone supplements they’re taking and it looks…quite disturbing frankly. Again, there’s nothing wrong with working out and staying fit, especially as you age. But our culture has introduced so many ways to artificially make people seem young. But as 30 Rock put it so eloquently, “There’s nothing older than trying to look young.”

So many messages from our culture are all about growth, change, and evolution…except for one’s maturity level. People grow. It’s inevitable. But along with the growth, there should also be a growing up and embracing that you will pass through different seasons in your life. John Eldridge highlights the passage of time in his book on the “stages” or “seasons” of a man’s life, Fathered by God.

A final area of a lack of seasonality present in our cultural moment is upon the pace of family life. If work pace is relentless, then the pace of family life may even be worse these days. Not only are both spouses expected to work high-demand jobs, but they are also supposed to shuffle their kids off to an onslaught of non-stop activities. And do they stop? Of course not. Because once school is out, a bevy of summer camps, special programs, and high-octane vacations take over. We claim that it’s “just a busy season.” But as Carey Nieuwhof says, “If your busy season has no ending, it’s not a season-it’s your life.”

How Do We Live with Seasonality?

How do we actually with live with some semblance of seasonality in our lives? If God has made the world to run according to a certain pattern, a certain rhythm, how do we live “in line” with that pattern? How do we adjust our mindset about our work, age, and family to flourish?

I don’t have all the answers because I’m still trying to figure out this myself. But I think it begins with asking the hard question: “What season am I in?” It begins taking an accurate accounting of where you currently are in life. Because we cannot chart a course without first reckoning with where we are. What season you’re in will often determine your priorities.

For example, if you have a newborn in the home, this is not the time to expect that you will crush it at work! I mean, you’re nurturing a new human life! To expect that you will be operating at your best with a newborn—with limited sleep, high stress, and the heavy demands of care—is delusional. It’s a delusion for yourself and your employer. So maybe the first step for you is to just cut yourself some slack because of the “newborn baby season” that you’re in. Merely surviving the first 6 months to a year is a feat unto itself.

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