The Winter of our Discontent. Those five words have been tossed about in various contexts within the English language for centuries. John Steinbeck enshrined the phrase in the title of his final novel, and he borrowed the line from Shakespeare.
For those who suffer from light deprivation in the season when the earth tilts furthest away from the sun, “winter” and “discontent” trudge together through the gray season of ice, snow, and chill. Depression and discouragement dominate their emotions.
Depressing and discouraging. That was John Steinbeck. Although I never knew the man and can assume he had an occasionally jolly moment, I hated the required reading of his books while I was in high school. No happy endings. Later, as a mature reader, I saw how Steinbeck understood the breakdown of our culture. In The Winter of Our Discontent he uses the title and the main character to comment on American society – regardless of the season.
The character, Ethan, was discontented with his life as he watched others cut corners, lie, cheat, and steal and still succeed. First, he was tempted to do the same; then he succumbed to temptation, reasoning that one had to be dishonest to take revenge on unscrupulous people. However, he had to hide his own dishonesty from his loved ones, and the poison of his choices eventually ruined him. I was fascinated to watch Ethan disintegrate one compromise at a time.
Steinbeck himself commented that a major problem in America was how men are “nudged into failure.” It all comes down to moral relativism versus old-fashioned, Biblical values. Relativism destroys our souls.
What if we choose to live with the opposite attitude? The Winter of Our Content? Instead of allowing the world to nudge us into failure we allow the Holy Spirit to nudge us into success.
If the wind is gusting at forty miles per hour and it feels like twelve below zero, do we shake our fist toward heaven? No. Why sink into misery? We can curl up with a good book in front of the fire and praise God for His providence of a warm home.
When coworkers complain about low pay, high taxes, and unjust bosses, do we commiserate and gossip? No. We can offer a nod of sympathy, and then we can testify to God’s grace in having enough to pay the rent, food, and utilities. We can express thanks that we live in a country where airing our grievances against the government doesn’t result in arrest. We can share an anecdote highlighting one of the boss’s good points.
If celebrities can cheat on their taxes, publicly maintain a drug addiction, and beat their wives, all with no repercussions, can’t we get away with a few minor sins? No. Think how much it would cost our souls. Instead, we need to remind ourselves of the words from the Psalms,
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For behold, those who are far from You shall perish;
You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near God.” (Ps. 73:26-28 my paraphrase).
Others might drag themselves through life in bitterness of soul, but we have a lightness to our steps because the Holy Spirit points out all the little blessings God provides every day. The apostle Paul said that he had learned to be content in every situation (Phil. 4:11).
With the nudging of the Holy Spirit, I plan to be content this winter. And in the spring, and the summer, and next fall… and forever.