“How was your week?” It’s a question I often ask a Client as we begin a Session. Responses vary of course, but one Client recently got me thinking when she said: “It’s been ups and downs, peaks and valleys . . . today I’m in a valley.”
Wanting to clarify what she was struggling with I asked, “What’s happening in your valley?”
She looked at me with pain-filled eyes as she talked about her husband’s deteriorating health and other changes that have taken place the past year and a half.
My response surprised even me as I said softly: “Valleys aren’t all bad. In fact, there are good things to be found in valleys: meadows . . . wildflowers . . . and God. Valleys provide a quiet place to reflect on the challenges we face as well as on God’s Goodness.”
I waited a moment before adding, “Valleys provide opportunities for spiritual and emotional growth when God is part of the conversation. We get into trouble though, when we talk only to ourselves rather than God.”
She looked at me quizzically before I added, “You know, those self-absorbed conversations we have within ourselves–‘I should have said this’, or ‘I wish I’d done that.’ When we are angry with someone else or beat ourselves up because of our failures: light and hope are overshadowed by bitterness, anger and regret. It is then, when we begin to doubt God’s Goodness, that the pit of depression can seem to swallow us up.”
We opened to the first four verses of Psalm 23 to gain a biblical perspective on valleys:
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.”
Green pastures . . . still waters . . . soul restoration . . . clarity of mind and heart: ALL are ours when we stay close to the Shepherd of our hearts. When shadows darken the terrain of our lives, He leads and enables us to walk (not run) through the scariest places as our Shield and Protector.
Isaiah says our problems multiply when we give way to fear. It is then that we find ourselves in a pit of our own making:
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength.”
And you said, “No, we will flee on horses,”
Therefore you shall flee!
“And we will ride on swift horses,”
Therefore those who pursue you shall be swift.
One thousand will flee at the threat of one man;
You will flee at the threat of five,
Until you are left as a flag on a mountain top
And as a banner on a hill.
Have you experienced that feeling of abandonment, when you look around and all you perceive is an impenetrable darkness? Me too. But don’t be fooled by your feelings; guard your heart against believing the worst of God. Instead, consider the assuring words that follow the warning against being run by fear:
“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!”
“BLESSED . . . ALL who wait for Him,” in the valleys of our lives as well as on the highest peak.
But what about those pit times, when depression and anxiety darken your door and faith is all but forgotten? I appreciate the grittiness at the end of the Isaiah passage that speaks truth and assurance:
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a Voice behind you, saying,
“This is the way; walk in it.” Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!” (Verses 21-22)
Jesus identified Himself as the Good Shepherd and gave further food for thought in John 10:14-16,
“I am the Good Shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me–
just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father–
and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen . . . .
They too will listen to my voice and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
As we determine to stay close to the Good Shepherd in thanksgiving and in faith–
refusing to give way to the destructive self-talk that spirals into a self-made pit–
He will provide the shelter needed to withstand any storm.
All to His Glory!