When our valleys last longer than expected, the people we expect to be with us grow fewer and farther between. Take, for instance, the long road of grief. When we lose someone, there is usually an instant outpouring of support. The refrigerator fills with meals. Phones vibrate with texts. The ads in the mailbox get outnumbered by sympathy cards. The scent of lilies and roses permeates every nook and cranny of our home. Our front door becomes a revolving door as people come and go in an effort to comfort and support. Within a few weeks (or even days), the flow of support slows to a trickle. Life moves on, but the grief does not.
And that, my friends, is one of many such valleys.
There are valleys of loneliness. Valleys of depression. Valleys of painful relationships. Valleys of long-term care. Valleys of privation. Valleys of chronic illness.
One of the downsides to living in West Texas is its flatness. If I get on the highway or even drive to the outskirts of town, I can quite literally see for miles in every direction. As the local saying goes, “I could watch my dog run away for three days.” While I have always loved the endless horizon of the ocean, I have no fondness for an endless horizon of unvarying land. Even when I lived in the desolate high desert, I was surrounded by mountains whose color changed with the rising and setting of the sun or the falling of snow in the winter. There was variation, a sense that something different could be just around the next curve or over the next hill (even if it was just more creosote and Joshua Trees).
Sometimes, our valleys stretch interminably before us like these West Texas plains.
Do not lose heart.
On this earth, the horizon eventually changes. As we continue towards it, a coastline materializes or a hill arises in the distance. Just as the horizon is not as interminable as it appears, our circumstances are not as unending as they may seem.
God knows exactly when and where our landscape will change, and He is the One who will be with us every step of the journey.
God leads us through every landscape.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
~ Psalm 23, ESV
Notice all the places listed in this Psalm:
- green pastures
- still waters
- paths of righteousness
- the shadow of death
- the presence of my enemies
- the house of the Lord
Notice what God does for us:
- makes me lie down
- leads me
- restores my soul
- comforts me
- is with me
- prepares a table for me
- anoints my head
- fills me to overflowing
- gives me a final dwelling place
Whether the circumstances are favorable or foul, our Shepherd is always there. He may not always give us what we want, but He always provides what we need.
God’s power pulls us through every hardship.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.2 Corinthians 4.7-10, ESV
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
Pride is an age-old issue. In our present society, it takes the form of self-empowerment:
“Believe [in yourself] and you can achieve!”
“Nothin’s gonna hold me down!”
“I’m a survivor!”
“You can get through this.”
I’m sure I’ve stepped on a few toes here, but allow me the chance to explain. Confidence is not negative in itself, but in what (or in whom) does our confidence rest? In our own intellect? Our financial status? Our fighting spirit? Our track record of success? Our health?
- Our wittiness can be outwitted.
- Our mind can be dismantled by dementia.
- Our finances can implode in one stock-market meltdown.
- Our success can be unravelled by a rival.
- Our health will eventually deteriorate.
- Our life inevitably ends.
Are we as powerful as we proclaim? When we put it in perspective, only God is all-powerful. Our confidence should rest, not in ourselves, but in Him.
God has had to crush more than a few of my pride sources to drive home the superiority of His power.
The world wants me to say: “I can do anything because I am determined/powerful/intelligent!”
Jesus wants me to say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
The surpassing power belongs to God. God is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory. It is God who will walk with us through every dark valley, every vast plain, and every nail-biter cliffside path.
It is God who will get you through whatever “this” you are going through.
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,Lamentations 3.19-24, ESV
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”