Today I’m wrestling with a question. Does there come a point when you realize you’re beyond the valley of the shadow of death spoken of in David’s 23rd Psalm—when you labor through to a sunlit upland where the music of birds explodes and color splashes the sky and gloriously drapes the landscape? Is it a sudden awakening or a slow realization? I’m sure the answers are as individual as grief is itself. Fifteen months after I entered this valley where death lingers like a shadow, I’m not sure where I stand.
Though I’ve been helped along these switchback trails by the tracks of others before me, the way has often been hard—no, impossible to navigate. Like many difficult hikes I’ve taken in life, I started this journey with my head down, fighting fear of the unknown. The most taxing part of the experience may be the darkness of the shadows, which can rob you of the desire to keep going.
We don’t walk this valley alone. Yes, we have our Good Shepherd, but the enemy is present too. He obeys no rules derived from a convention of war. He won’t hesitate to attack wounded prey, and he won’t bring comfort to the dying. The only thing keeping his evil in check is the Shepherd's powerful refusal to abandon His sheep.
One of the greatest challenges of the valley of the shadow is the irony that we walk blinded by sight. What is visible becomes our greatest obstacle to walking by faith. 2 Corinthians 5:7 tells us "We live by faith, not by sight." And just as truly we die in the absence of faith. In the valley we can’t physically see the Shepherd of our souls, but we can see the results of His goodness. By faith we feel the warmth of His presence. We see His comforting, His provision and His plan unfolding. Through the eyes of faith, we see Him intimately as the nail pierced hands hold us in moments of weakness. We know His presence in the darkest of night. We see Him beat back the wolves of loneliness and with His own two hands fight the mountain lions of despair.
I don’t really know where I am in this journey—I only know I’m not where I started. I don’t know how much farther I have to go, but as I stop on this hillside and look back, I realize I’ve come a mighty long way. I inhale the fresh air of my Shepherd’s loving provision and let the sun wash my tear-stained face.
I don’t know how much of the valley of the shadow remains, but I care less today than I did fifteen months ago. My overwhelming desire is that I never live a day, or a moment therein, without the awareness of my Good Shepherd’s presence, provision and protection. He is faithful and true! Jesus alone is worthy of my praise! I love Him more now than ever. I bow before His sovereign will and worship Him for His choices in this life. I accept the pain He inflicts with gladness, because He alone understands why.
I know this may sound over the top, but bear with this trail-worn heart of mine. I wouldn’t miss this journey for anything in the world, because I get to take it with Jesus. He is more precious to me today than fifteen months ago. I wouldn’t go back.
Surviving and Thriving by His Grace!