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I grew up in Michigan where the summers felt like vacation, always warm and fast; and the winters felt like what winters feel like – cold and never ending. The skies are grey for two-thirds of the year. The snow starts in October and lasts till April.
But that doesn’t stop us Michiganders. We get out. We brave the snow and ice and, sometimes, below zero temperatures to go to work and school and church and Olga’s. We have things to do (and Snackers to eat!) and a few feet of snow isn’t going to hinder our progress.
We secretly want it to, though. We dream of the rare “snow day” when the snow is deep enough to keep us indoors, when we don’t have to achieve, when we can be under a blanket with a warm cup of coffee in hand, watching the snow fall.
Watching snow fall has a cathartic effect. It’s as if your cares and worries stick to the flakes and are carried away by the wind.
I think the reason we long for snow days is the same reason we long for vacations and, in a desperate hour, sick days. We long for rest and renewal. We long for the days when we have time to make french toast for breakfast and homemade chicken soup for dinner and sit for hours snuggling with our babies. We long to tinker with our pet projects and fly down a hill on a sled.
I come from a line of hardcore hard workers. My dad grew up on a farm and I grew up listening to his stories of feeding the hogs at 5am. He went to school and went hunting and fishing and worked on his family’s farm and on neighboring farms and played football. He had perfect attendance from kindergarten until he graduated high school. He never missed a day of school and he never missed a moment of life. No opportunity was lost on my dad. He never stopped, never slowed down and he was tough as nails. He still is. My dad is still one of the hardest working, toughest men I know.
He is an achiever just like his dad. My Papaw didn’t just have a farm, he had a wife and three sons and a master’s degree in education and a full time job. And to this day, even in his seventies, he takes care of a hundred acre farm and a herd of cattle and educates his family with the wisdom of a sage.
It makes me wonder if that go get ’em gene was on vacation when I was born because, admittedly, I am not anywhere close to being as hardcore as them. I am slow to achieve and quick to relax.
My sister, on the other hand, has a little bit more of that gene in her. She achieves and progresses in life a little faster than me. Without a doubt she is hardcore about one thing: keeping a clean and clutter free house. “Why relax on the couch when there is a cobweb in the corner?” could be her life’s motto.
My observations of people has lead me to believe that everyone takes life in different strides.
There are people who live life very deliberately. These people have a plan and a back-up plan. They know what lies before them, what they want to achieve and how they are going to do it. They tackle each day with the purpose and drive of an ox tethered to a plow.
Then there are those who float and wander. Those who take life as it comes and, if they choose to be deliberate about anything, they choose to be deliberate about not being deliberate. They breathe in curiosity and breath out spontaneity.
And there are people who do both. People who know when to be deliberate and when to wander because not all those who live deliberately are sticks-in-the-mud and, in the words of J. R. R. Tolkien, “not all those who wander are lost.”
I was talking with my grandmother recently and she was regarding how quickly time passes. She used to think it was because she was old, but after hearing so many young people saying the same thing, she realizes it’s more universal. No one, young or old, is immune to the rapid passage of time.
And it’s scary. The idea that we can’t slow down time is haunting. We wake up one morning and we are five years old and fancy-free and feel like we have our whole lives ahead of us. We feel like we wont be grown ups for another eternity. Then, somehow, the next morning we have two kids and a mortgage, and the morning after that our great grandchildren are visiting us in the nursing home.
We only have one life to live on this planet and that life passes in the blink of an eye. There is a verse in the scriptures that says, “Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone” (James 4:14, NLT).
I’m finding that life is give and take, movement and stillness. Life is life and life is death. Like the tides, life is constantly shifting and we are shifting with it. We are always moving along the spectrum of ebb and flow and it is almost always difficult, even when it should be easy.
We think the snow days of life should be easy. It should be easy to rest and relax and slow down and breath in, but it’s not. Some guilt looms over us and sometimes we get a weird twitch. Our bodies are trying to get up and move and our brains are telling us to be still.
We were created to create and we were created to rest. There is something about tackling life and there is something about being still. And there is something special about the people who master both. I think we need both to truly experience life – the one, ever so fleeting life we’ve been given.
I think we need to take the long road because we don’t see those sights everyday. And we need to take the hard road because there is growth in every struggle.
“Otherwise life passes by in about seven weeks, and if you are not paying attention and savoring it as it unfurls, you will wake up one day in deep regret. It’s much better to wake up now in deep regret, desperate not to waste more of your life obsessing and striving for meaningless crap. Because you will have finally awakened.” – Anne Lamott (Stitches, p. 87)
I don’t think that my father or grandfather’s striving and hard work was striving for meaningless crap. I think they were striving for something deeper. I think they did it to learn with their minds and produce with their hands, to care for their families and to set an example that will live long past their time on earth. I think they have been striving to get the most out of life.
My dad’s favorite pastime is hunting. He has spent countless hours in the woods and I believe it is less about the kill and more about the thousands of moments beforehand. It’s about being in creation and being with the Creator. It’s about the balance between creating a life for yourself and letting life create you.
I used to go hunting with my dad when I was younger. We’d wander through the woods looking for just the right spot to sit and wait for a passing deer. Once we found our spot, we would wait and wait some more. We would sit in the stillness and listen and look. No talking, just listening and looking. We’d hear the rustle of the leaves with each gust of wind. We’d hear squirrels scurry up the trees and acorns fall to the ground. We’d see birds jumping and pecking. Every crack of a limb brought a twinge of excitement at the possibility that it cracked under the hoof of a deer.
Usually, we’d sit for hours and then go home. I must have been bad luck because my dad is an excellent hunter. He comes home with game more often than not.
But, after hunting with him, I realize he comes home with so much more. He comes home with a peace and a wisdom that can only come from observing, from being still, from moving through labor and into rest, knowing he will need that peace and need that wisdom when he returns to his labor. He comes home awakened.