From my vantage point, the tops of buildings and trees jut up into the cloudy sky. Leaves are still green, but their brightness is beginning to fade, and despite the humidity, I really do think the air is beginning to change.
I’m writing this on the first day of fall. In Arkansas, September 23 still calls for shorts and sandals. There isn’t some overnight magic that produces crisp mornings and colored leaves. But if you set your expectation that early fall in the South isn’t boots weather, you are less likely to be disappointed–and you might be able to observe the ways the world is changing, even if not all at once.
Sometimes, the trouble with the change of the season is that it doesn’t change as rapidly as you hope it will. I can still feel stuck in summer when it’s almost 90 degrees and I am sweating as I walk to the mailbox in the afternoon. But if you pay close attention, you will notice that there is a more drastic temperature change throughout the day. If you look for it, you can see the tint of yellow in the leaves as the sun shines through them just right. You can sense the ways the angle of light is different, and of course you can see that it’s darker in the mornings and in the evenings than it was even a few weeks ago.
There is newness on the way, and I think the anticipation of that newness is part of the beauty of the season–knowing that change is coming, albeit slowly, and experiencing each small part that will one day lead to seeing the whole.
But what do we do when the seasons change but life doesn’t? Because, while the fall is bringing with it the hope of change in my own life, that hasn’t always been the case. There have been seasons of hopelessness, of feeling the world around me change and my life stagnate in one way or another. The change of the season seemed to rub salt into the wound of feeling stuck, like the world was reminding me that things really hadn’t changed.
As I reflected on what’s been helpful for me, and even what I need to remind myself as I cultivate contentment right now, I identified three things to help me appreciate the sameness of the present.
1. Stop comparing yourself to others.
This might come across a little harsh. But, to be honest, this is where most of my own bitterness started. I did feel the stagnation in my own life more during the changing of seasons, and the pain was valid, but any comparison to others pushed me over the edge.
Comparison leads to self-centeredness. When we are consumed with how our lives stack up compared to those around us, we will either be filled with pride or with pity. This is especially true during a time of year when we might be more sensitive to our own sadness. It felt like everyone’s life around me was changing, and I was the only one who was stuck. Or that I was the only one God seemed to be “withholding” from.
The reality is, you don’t know what is going on in others’ lives. Just because they have one thing that you envy doesn’t mean that all the other parts are working like they want it to. God is writing a different story for each of us, calling us as individuals to trust him with whatever he has placed in our hands. There isn’t some standard they have met and you haven’t that is keeping your life from moving forward.
I see this in a simple way in the various stories of Jesus healing blind men. There are three different accounts and three different ways Jesus brings about the same healing. In the first, he simply places his hand on the eyes of two blind men, and they are immediately able to see. In the second, Jesus spits on his eyes then lays a hand on him; at first, the man’s vision is blurry, and Jesus lays his hands on him a second time, which then allows the man to see fully. And in the third story, Jesus spits on the ground to make mud, anoints the man’s eyes with the mud, and asks him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.
Jesus encounters each of these men in different situations, he relates to them in different ways, he asks of them different things, and in some the process leading to healing takes longer. But Jesus is fully able and fully in control; these men must trust him with their own story.
2. Start seeing the changing season as a gift, not as a thorn.
When I shift my eyes from my own circumstances and look for opportunities for gratitude instead of comparison and complaining, my heart is able to appreciate what’s in front of me.
God is the one who keeps the world turning and the leaves changing. He didn’t create the world then leave it on its own to fend for itself; he is actively involved, and the changing seasons remind me of his hands at work. If he is at work in the world around me, and if he is at work in the lives of others, I have to believe that he is at work in my life, even if I can’t see it right now.
Another aspect of the changing season as a gift is that the newness provides a new context for knowing and experiencing God. Despite the lack of change in my circumstances, the change of the world around me renews me internally, calling me to slow down and savor the moments that are just so classically “fall,” pressing me deeper into awareness of him and a new context in which to navigate what’s weighing me down.
3. Pray for renewal in your own life.
As I am confronted with the change around me, I am drawn to ask God to change what’s in me. I’ve learned that it’s good to expose the painful and the tired places, because that’s what draws awareness to my need and therefore to the only One who can meet that need.
Sometimes, God does respond in the ways I am praying for, bringing change to my circumstances. But sometimes, the change he brings is more internal, working in me to align my heart with his. Instead of frustration, I move toward acceptance and even gratitude–the work of the Lord softening my heart to trust him more.
Instead of dwelling on the fact that your life doesn’t seem to be changing, pray for the perspective to see the beauty of the change around you, seeing it as a sweet gift to remind you that life is not stagnant.
And, in the midst of our desire to see change, we can be grateful that our God Himself does not change. He is not like the shifting shadows (James 1:17), and he is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). His love is steadfast and endures forever (Psalm 136). We can rest in his care when we don’t understand.