Excluding the winters I endured in Romania, it was the coldest I can remember. We get four seasons in Tennessee, but winter is usually brief and mild – several cold spells, a couple of good snows, with a few isolated days of warm weather to give us a taste of spring.
But this winter was different. Several weeks in a row, arctic blasts (dramatically renamed “polar vortexes” by the Weather Channel) brought temperatures down to the single digits and below. It wasn’t just Tennessee, of course. At one point, I saw photos of ice-covered street signs in the Florida town we go to for vacation every year.
Whenever the temperatures rose to a tolerable level, the clouds swooped in and hid the sun. For months, we walked through a bitterly cold, dreary landscape with barely a moment of relief. I found myself yearning for sunlight. Something to change the scene.
Then came a weekend in early March. The sun flexed its muscle and the clouds scattered. Temperatures rose to the low 50’s.
You’d have thought it was summer. People were everywhere. I saw dozens of people out walking, riding bikes down by the river, and doing yard work happily. The weather was on all our minds. No one could get enough of the sunlight. I spent several hours out on our patio reading a good book, more thankful than ever for the big fiery ball in the sky.
Two days later, we were all back inside shivering. Another icy blast from Canada hit.
This pattern repeated itself in March and April. Whenever a day of sunlight and moderate warmth would hit, everyone would be outside. In fact, it seemed almost unthinkable, the height of ingratitude, to stay indoors when the sun made a rare appearance.
Eventually, the long, cold winter expired its last icy breath and surrendered to spring. Day after day of unbroken sunshine, with temperatures climbing into the 60’s and 70’s. It was glorious!
After months of yearning for warmth, after having grown accustomed to the pattern of doing whatever it took to be outside whenever the sun was out, it seemed the sun’s rays were extravagant. There was more sunlight than we could take in.
Sunny day after sunny day. Warmth building on warmth. Flowers blooming, trees showing off their newly formed leaves and waving to us in the breeze, the thermometer reaching for the 80’s, and later, fireflies lighting up the evening, keeping us in tune with the magic even after the sun disappeared over the horizon.
I noticed people weren’t outside as much. The weather was terrific, but the sense of urgency we felt during winter, that yearning for sunlight and warmth, had dissipated. If we didn’t do things outside today, there was always tomorrow. The grace of sunshine became common once again. No longer a rarity, it was expected.
Common. Ordinary. Normal. Yet extravagant.
After enduring last winter, I’m not surprised that when Jesus wanted to describe the benevolent heart of God toward His enemies, He turned to the example of the sun shining on the righteous and the wicked.
What better example is there of God’s love for the world? He’s a God who lavishes common grace upon a fallen world that refuses to recognize Him.
This is a God who sustains the heartbeat of the rebel who defies Him. His brightest light illuminates the fist we raise toward heaven. He blankets the world in beauty and warms stone-cold-hearted sinners with sunshine. His grace is so commonplace we call it “ordinary.”
Chesterton wrote about this tendency to take God’s gifts for granted:
When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude. I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.
Sobering. Perhaps the worst moment for the Christian is when we have Someone to thank but have forgotten the most basic reasons why.
The beauty of redemption, the horror of sin, the offer of grace — they all come into sharper focus when we consider the goodness of our Creator, expressed so clearly in His blessing of sun and rain.
So, next time you walk outside and the sun is shining, let the warmth of the sun’s rays startle you into gratitude, and then praise the God who drenches His world in grace.