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Hope in the Valley of Shadows

valley

By Ruth Wood

Every evening I turn my worries over to God. He’s going to be up all night anyway. ~ Mary C. Crowley

We smile at this quote. How much we would like to be able to unload grief in such a nonchalant way as well. But dealing with grief feels more challenging because grief is primarily about loss. And there are many different kinds of losses. Certainly losing a loved one is heartbreaking, but we also grieve loss of health, or financial set-backs, or estranged relationships.

Scripture

King David wrote Psalm 23 and made this astounding statement:

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.

When you’re in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, when you’re going through grief, it can feel like you’re walking a living death because the Valley of Shadows is: (1) a place that’s dark (2) a place we feel alone, and (3) a place that feels hopeless. Let’s look at how this wonderful psalm models how to deal with grief.

First, grief is a place that’s dark.

In the Valley of Shadows we see shapes and outlines, but things are not clear; we can’t see far ahead. In the uncertainty we can get disoriented. We imagine lurking things in the shadows and feel afraid.

David’s Losses

David knew what he was talking about. He was continually hunted by King Saul who was trying to kill him. Imagine the FBI hunting you down. You wouldn’t feel like you’d have much of a chance of survival. Well, Saul and his troops were like the FBI in David’s day. Death continually stalked him; it was continually lurking nearby. David was dealing not only with the loss of personal safety, but the loss of his career as Israel’s top army commander, the loss of his community, the loss of fellowship with his best friend, Jonathan, and the loss of family—Saul had even given his wife to another man. And yet he was able to say about this dark time in his life: “Though I walk through the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil.”

As incredible as it seems, according to David, it’s possible to go through the valley, or grief, with your fear in check.

Second, grief is a place where we can feel very alone.

Perhaps the main reason we feel alone in times of grief is because pain is isolating. Worst of all, it can isolate us from God.

About twenty years ago my marriage was in trouble. In fact, we were on the brink of divorce. We did stay married and will celebrate our thirtieth anniversary this year. But at the time it was a terrible valley. I was upset that God was allowing such pain in my life, and I wondered if He cared about me at all. It felt like He’d abandoned me.

A Story

One day the kids were playing outside when suddenly my five-year-old son came running into the house with both knees terribly scraped up. Screaming. You know how your kid’s pain pierces the heart of a mom. Your stomach lurches and you get caught up in their emotion. Well, I rushed toward him, but he didn’t seem to see me and ran straight to his room.

I followed to find him writhing in agony on the bed. But when I bent to help him, I was shocked that his crying only increased and he flailed at me, acting as if was personally responsible for wounding his knees. I was a bit offended, but this behavior was out of character for my son. I’d never seen him so out of his mind with pain. It wasn’t until he calmed down that I was able to apply my usual remedy for skinned knees—I drew a nice warm soapy bath and put him in it.

Later that day, the Lord began to talk to me. “Ruth, did you see yourself today? You’ve been wondering where I am in all your pain and misery. I’ve been right here…waiting. And don’t you think my heart has ached for you all this time the way yours did for your son?” That day I stopped blaming God for not being there for me.

The lesson

It’s important to understand that you may not be able to feel God’s presence at all when grief is most intense. It may take a long time to calm down before you’re in a place where you can receive His comfort, where you can listen. But I learned an important lesson that day: How needlessly we add to our pain by falling for the enemy’s lie that God’s not there or that He doesn’t care. David walked in confidence, “Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow I will fear no evil. Why? Because You are with me.”

Third, grief is a place where we’re tempted to despair of hope.

Grief can feel like our worst enemy. Here’s an excerpt from a poem titled Sorrow:

Late one cold winter’s night I was sitting by a cozy fire
When I heard a knock and hurried to the door
I didn’t know what to say to the stranger cloaked in gray
But her face shook me to the core
Without a word she stepped inside
Without a word put out the fire
And I cried out, “Your message can’t be true,”
But a cold north wind blew
I followed her from room to room
As she quickly spread her dismal gloom
Oh, I knew my life would never be the same
I got down on my knees and pleaded with the powers that be
But nothing, nothing changed
Then with an empty heart I climbed in bed
And with an empty heart, lay down my head
And she sang her song to me
They call me Sorrow, Sorrow,
I am a friend though you see me as your Foe!
Sorrow, Sorrow…

©2010 Ruth Wood. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

A banquet

Yes, sorrow is our enemy but she can become a friend of sorts. David said, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” How is it possible to see anything good when grief feels like such a bitter enemy?

What David is saying is that despite the darkness and pressures he was under, God provided rich nourishment to sustain him through his troubles. I have experienced this too. In seasons of great heartache is when the Lord has fed me the best morsels of truth and insight. And because of this I can be thankful for Sorrow. I don’t have to like her, but I can appreciate her “helping role” in my life.

Hope

So if you’ve been experiencing darkness, isolation or despair, take heart. God is there; He does care, even if your feelings scream otherwise. He will see you through this Valley of Shadows. And you will come to know Him even better as your Good Shepherd.

Prayer:

Lord, thank you that you are the Good Shepherd. You are the one who makes us lie down in green pastures, who leads us beside quiet waters, who restores our souls after we have walked through the valley. Thank you that we need fear no evil knowing you are always with us. In Jesus name. Amen.