The seasons of life

Our theatre group regularly performs a dynamic skit based on a monologue from the Shakespeare play As You Like It, where he summarizes the seasons of our lives in seven stages: the crying baby, the reluctant schoolboy, the pining lover, the fierce soldier, the wise judge, the old man, and finally death.

Shakespeare ends it there, but the Bible promises one more season of life: everlasting afterlife. So rather than ending the story with “mere oblivion,” as the Bard does, we like to end with our protagonist awakening in heaven—the true happy ending.

This play got me thinking of the seasons of life I find myself going through. We live through so many cycles and seasons both big and small, and in working on our various projects, it helps to step back and see how the seasons work. In that way, we can know where we are in the change and growth cycle and what to expect next. For example, if you’re going through a tough time, you can derive hope from realizing you’re in a “winter,” and the spring will come with new life.

In my travels, I’ve noticed that the countries that have subtle variations in seasons have a completely different flora and energy from the countries that have more distinct seasons.

I took a walk in the mountains of Romania recently and was amazed at how vibrant life was there. Bright wildflowers popped out every which way—each with its bevy of bees and other pollinators ensuring the next generation of flowers to come. Greenery competed for the sunlight in every available patch of land; even the puddles were full of tadpoles, water striders, and a myriad of tiny water oddities.

It seems they know that their time is short and that soon colder temperatures will once again bring deep sleep upon the land. People are also affected. It seems that those living in tropical countries tend to be a bit more relaxed and less work-oriented; nature seems to be the same way. Life seems to meander along—as opposed to sleeping and then exploding.

Applying an understanding of the seasonal changes in our work can help us to know what to expect next. The Art of War, an ancient Chinese text by the military tactician Sun Tzu, gives an overview of how change and innovation occur in societies, businesses, nations, and individuals.

It presents the phases in the growth of an idea, project, innovation, organization, or nation, as five stages or “seasons”: metal, water, wood, fire, and earth.

In the metal phase at the start, there is discontent. The need for change is apparent, but someone has to get the ball rolling.

In the next phase of water, imagination comes into action. We play with possibilities and try to picture what the ideal future for us would look like. We flow and splash around with ideas until we find the best one(s).

In the wood stage, we’ve picked the idea to implement and begin to assemble our resources. We build a team and make a plan. At this stage, effort often seems to overshadow results.

When we enter the fire phase, our innovation or project breaks out, and we begin to burn. We have to keep the heat and get others interested—spread the fire to others as well.

Earth is the last phase before the cycle repeats itself. Once our project is running, we have to make it sustainable and ensure long-term growth without running out of steam. We must fight deterioration with more innovation or we will begin to lose what we’ve gained.

Each of us may be at a different season or stage. That’s healthy. Discontent can be helpful to find new directions of growth. Water and new ideas are always needed to keep improving. Wood is needed for structure and putting landing gear on our ideas. Fire is a sign that people are getting something done and giving heat and light. Earth is needed for stability and to build walls of defense against possible setbacks and adversity. When all of these are present, we find ourselves in an ideal place to prosper and bear fruit.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd and knows where the mountain streams are and how to avoid the pitfalls. If we follow, He will lead us into green pastures and help us to grow and prosper regardless of the time or the season we find ourselves in.