On Valleys and Avoiding The Pit . . . .

“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.

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me;"
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me . . . .”

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. 
(Verses 15-17)

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!” 
(Verse 18)

“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.

PRAISE HIM!

All to His Glory!

Shadows . . . .

As a kid, I loved dreams where I went on crazy adventures and got to be the heroine–“Kathie to the rescue!”  In my teens, I remember waking up and trying to go back to sleep to continue an adventure that involved one or more of the Beatles–ala A Hard Days Night.  But not all dreams are created equal.  Even then, I dreaded those scary, shadowy dreams where the people I loved got hurt and I woke up filled with despair.  I remember resisting sleep after waking in the middle of the night while having one of those dreams–scared of what might be lurking in the shadows if I allowed myself to go back to the darkness I had fled.

There are seasons in life we wish were but a dream; when the lurking shadows of reality cause us to wonder where to turn next for the answers to our problems.  Part of my job as a Counselor is to help Clients face those menacing shadows with the light and hope of the Scriptures. As their Counselor I do not pretend to have all the answers to their problems . . . there is so much more to navigating the mysteries of life than that.  When it comes to understanding that making our way through challenging seasons is more than coming up with answers, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias says it best with this observation:

 “Having the answers is not essential to living.
What is essential is the sense of God’s presence during dark seasons of questioning.” 

Living in the “information age” we crave answers; yet what is needed is that sense of our Shepherd’s presence.  It is our faith in the saving work of Christ, that moves us through the shadows and dark places of this world.  Psalm 23 is a reflection of such confidence in the Shepherd’s presence, as He guides us through seasons of shifting shadows:

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.
(Verses 1-4)

Whether we live in times of ease or we suffer severe trial, the Shepherd faithfully tends to His sheep.  It is no small comfort to know that even “the darkest darkness . . . is as light”* to the Shepherd of our souls.  We fear no evil, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, because He is watching over us.

In Mark 4:15-17, the contrast of darkness and light take center stage with the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy** having been realized in the person of Christ,

“’Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.’
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Jesus continues to call all people living in the shadow of death to enter His light through repentance and faith. When surrounded by shadows and fear grips our hearts, Jesus urges us to cry out to the One who saves . . . confess your fears and receive His comfort and rest.

Just as not all dreams are created equal, the same can be said of shadows.  One of my favorite places to go is Psalm 91 (referred to by many as “the 911 Psalm“) as it calls God’s people to find refuge in the shadow of Almighty God,

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
(Verses 1 and 2)

Where is your dwelling place right now?  Are you frustrated at the direction life is taking you, perhaps fearful because of the direction the world appears to be going?  No matter how shadowy life may appear, give thanks to God for His Sovereign Goodness as He lights your way.  Looking for answers?  Look no further than Christ who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  John 14:6

Light penetrating shadows–by Jordan Ball

All to His Glory!

*Psalm 139:12

**Isaiah 9:2