It was -1 degrees (Fahrenheit) as I left the house for my usual bike commute to work. For years, I had experienced cold rides all the way down to zero, but it was the first time that the mercury had gone negative. As always, this ride was an exercise in appreciating the clothing and movement that was keeping me warm (kind of), and exercising the spiritual discipline of seeking God’s warmth in an otherwise frigid place. Yet as I was seeking His warmth, I was also reassured that 7 miles away (and decreasing) was my workplace, where artificial warmth would not be taken for granted. As I walked in the main entrance (after the usual back door card swipe machine was malfunctioning due to cold), I felt a deep sense of gratitude that I was fortunate enough to spend the rest of my day in a warm, comforting place (until, of course, my ride home).
For thus the LORD has told me, “I will look from My dwelling place quietly like dazzling heat in the sunshine, like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.” (Isaiah 18:4)
Later that week, as the cold rides continued, I found myself reflecting on all the ways in which God gives us incredible gifts that pose as mundanity. So often when we hear scriptural references to these gifts, we are quick to think of the metaphorical nature of the statements, and can easily forget that the literal meaning of what He says repeatedly provides us with sustenance and joy.
Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters (Isaiah 55:1)
Give us this day our daily bread. (Matthew 6:11)
There will be a shelter to give shade from the heat by day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain. (Isaiah 4:6)
I also realized that although I was able to quickly come inside after my rides, this wasn’t necessarily the case for the homeless, or for those, such as utility repairmen, who had to bear the cold for various reasons. In a miniscule, yet real way, I was aligning with their suffering, and in doing so, hopefully my generosity would be increasing when meeting others in need.
This past summer, my brothers, three friends, and I embarked on a backpacking adventure in the confines of Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada. Full of variegated alpine meadows and striking mountainous hikes, it is a hidden gem among a harsh desert topography. It also is one of the few places in the world where the bristlecone pines live; many of these pines began growing thousands of years before Christ was born. On day two, we found ourselves on a route that took us through these ancient trees and onto a spine of the Snake mountains in route to Wheeler Peak. But as the day wore on, it became quickly apparent that what started as a hike had turned into a strategic, at times crawl-by-crawl route, through remarkable fields of spree and brush besides snow packs that remained from the past winter. Eventually, with little water remaining, we were forced to alter the original plan, and take a side trail down to Johnson Lake, a beautiful little tarn at around 11,000 feet.
There, we came to the water, and in great jubilation, we drank in full and swam in its frigid, rejuvenating basin. It couldn’t have felt or tasted better, and as we looked around at this scene carved out by glaciers eons before, I was once again reminded that God’s gifts are often no further away than what we can taste and see.
Yet as with the cold ride, I was also reminded that with deprivation comes great gratitude. Depriving oneself isn’t necessary to induce thankfulness, but it is one of the most reliable mechanisms to do so, especially when it comes to amazing gifts posing as basic needs often provided for. It is why fasting is so central to our faith, and why “fasting” can and should be applied to any basic commodity.
So, although the mountains may be out of reach for most, many of us continue to endure cold weather. If you get the urge to avoid the wintriness altogether, consider taking a slightly different course. Bundle up and go out for a bit (walking will suffice), if for nothing more than embracing God’s warmth for what he provides inside and outside. You may find as I have, that the cold becomes something to be much less to be spurned, and more of a reminder of the gifts we have been given, and those meant to be shared.