I recently read George RR Martin’s book Game of Thrones, a fantasy novel of kings, knights, intrigue and war. One thing I thought was especially interesting in the book was that each family, or house, has a saying, like a motto to remind themselves who they are and what they stand for. The saying that interested me was the Stark’s motto “Winter is coming”. While this saying does point to some of the fantasy aspects of the world, IE that summers and winters can last decades and even centuries, the phrase means more than just snow and ice.
The book takes place in a fantasy land called the Seven Kingdoms, which fourteen years before had been the scene of a major civil war where the nobles overthrew an evil king. Helping them was Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, the northernmost kingdom in the seven lands. Since the war he and his family have lived in relative peace, where he has had children and taught them the virtue of honor in a world where summer has lasted for years.After a couple chapters of bliss the family is thrown into an intrigue involving kings and murder where there honor is put through its ultimate test.
This is where the Starks words draw their inner meaning. “Winter is coming” is a warning to the entire family that, no matter how happy things are now, always be ready for when things become hard, cold, and nearly unbearable.
It sounds like a grim promise, but I think the warning has more strength in it than despair. The word winter reminds them that suffering and hard times are inevitable. No summer lasts forever. I’ve seen men come home from firesides, experiential weekends, and even exceptionally good parties saying how happy they were and how things will be so much better forever and ever. It may be true, they can certainly take good things from anything and enjoy them, but the happiness can’t last forever. At one point something hard comes, a trial, or a temptation rolls its ugly head around and the happy times becomes a fleeting memory. I’ve seen many a tear shed for lost summers.
This warning is reflected in the teachings of our beloved prophets. How many talks have been about food storage? How many times did we get those talks about mission preparation in Young Men’s or seminary? BYU has entire classes on how to prepare for marriage, and the prophets throughout the ages have always told us to prepare for the second coming. Now yes these can be glorious and beautiful things, but I know personally that some of my hardest trials came on my mission, and as much fun as my Disney themed wedding reception will be, I know that marriage will hold its own set of trials as well as blessings.
So as summer winds down and fall begins, I find the Stark’s words both a comfort and a warning. Winter is coming in many ways, and I need to be prepared for what’s coming, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be prepared for what’s coming. Back to the story, the Starks end up scattered across the kingdoms, being tried over and over in every way imaginable, but in every instance the characters personal preparation for such times shines through. “Winter is coming” doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the good times, but it means we can’t think of them as lasting forever so we can both enjoy them all the more and use them to get us through when things become cold and dark.