buried in frost-hardened earth

The death which winter brings has always haunted me.

Gold- and red-painted leaves decorating the sky and the sidewalk transform into a crumbling, disintegrating pile littering cars and entryways of houses. Squirrels and songbirds disappear as if hiding from the decay seeming to approach their world. And humans seek shelter within layers of fleece and wool, slowly separating themselves as well.

Death is unpleasant. Death is lonely. Death grabs at us, taunting with its mystery and frightening with the horror of the unknown and unexpected.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” -John 12:24

Yet, somehow, death brings beauty. I don’t know how it happens, really – how dying can produce life. Seems like such an antonymic idea, pairing death and life together and teaching them to work in tandem. Yet that’s our God.

I like this word picture of wheat. I never picture a single stalk of growing wheat. When I picture wheat, I picture a full field of it, the sun setting, and a slight breeze bumping and twisting the stalks together.

Then the winter comes. Stalks turn brittle and grains disappear, driven away by the wind and buried in isolation beneath cold, frost-hardened earth. A depressing end to a lovely scene.

The beauty is found in that it is not the end of the story.

This death is necessary. The grains must fall off the stalk, separate from the field, and remain buried in the cold, hard earth – for that is where the life happens. Life cannot be found by clinging on as long as possible to the stalk. The isolation, death, and burial play a vital role in the new life the grain will experience.

As well as in the life we will experience.

In order to be fruitful and producing believers, death is involved. Death to ourselves. Death to our desires. Death to our plans. Maybe death to a relationship or a pursuit or entitlement. Wherever your death lies, it will happen. Like physical death, this death is inevitable – at least for those who want to follow Christ and grow in His likeness. It’s not always pretty, and it’s not always convenient.

Our hope comes not in that we can avoid death, but that from death our Lord will bring something beautiful, something greater than where we once were. 

Death has a purpose. The key, I am learning, is to cling to the hope of life – as opposed to being dominated by death. Just as in the story of the wheat, death is not final… unless you allow it to be. You can let spiritual or personal death be the end, or you can allow it to be the beginning.

You can trust that the Lord is bringing something through the winter in your life, and you can remember the faithfulness of the spring to appear. The dying leaves play a vital role in the renewal of soil, and death to your plans plays a vital role in the renewal of God’s direction for your life. I think we see most clearly when the world around us is barren and all that is left is the nudging voice of our God.

And in the end, even physical death does not defeat us. We have the hope of eternal life, where death will be no more.

{P.S. “You Will Revive Me Again” was written under this concept last winter.}

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