Not So Great in the Valley

It was a beautiful moment. A triumph.

We stood on the platform waiting for our respective trains, buzzing from the evening’s festivities. Only three months after first arriving on the field, I had managed to clean myself up (leaving my normal mommy uniform of jeans and a Kansas Jayhawks t-shirt at home), get myself to the train and find my way through the city centre, guided by Georgian doors and the brisk, independent European gait. It was my coming-out party; or at least, it felt that way to me. My first act of service, volunteering at an esteemed lecture, diving deeper into the culture I wanted so desperately to understand.

Four hours later, my feet were killing me, but I felt alive. So alive, I knew what was coming.

“You’re doing so great, all of you,” my new friend and trusted colleague said to me. “How do feel about it, now that it’s been a few months? Do you feel like you’re doing great?”

“Yes,” I said, “I think it’s been really great. But I’m afraid,” I paused, uncertain of her response, but knowing my rhythms and the patterns that have followed me all my life.

“I’m afraid,” I began again, “I’m about to be not so great.”

***

The Wicklow Mountains aren’t all that tall, but gently sloping peaks offer views of the sea on one side, a beautiful evergreen valley below. You can walk these hills and find yourself in a clearing where the earth unfolds around you, revealing places you never knew existed. A monastery. A sandy beach. Twin lakes like mirrors to the sky. You don’t realize how high you are until you see what lies below: this valley, so cleverly hidden by mountaintops, waiting for you all the while.

***

The valley whispers to me; white static noise, the soundtrack to even the happiest of moments. It is the valley of the shadow of depression, anxiety and fear. From the mountaintop I can see it, feel it waiting for me. No matter how beautiful or triumphant the moment, I find myself waiting for the fall, looking for the valley that will enfold me.

I was right that night. I was about to be not so great, slowly descending into the shadows of anxiety till I found myself in tears, a shaky hand holding a positive pregnancy test. Surprise!, the valley said. Half a year into our first term overseas and we were expecting baby number three. Another beautiful moment, leading to an excruciating year in the valley of depression.

Here is where I could very well insert the Spiritual Lesson you might be hoping for. But the truth is, when you are in that valley – surrounded by peaks you are so sure you’ll never set foot on again, wondering if God is hiding behind those very mountains that betray you – you simply don’t want to hear it. Maybe even God is the very last thing on your mind.

The valley keeps us entrenched in ourselves, our circumstances, running in circles to escape our doubts and our fears. God’s purposes for that time run a distant second to surviving it. We find ourselves isolated in our host culture, emotionally and geographically distanced from our families, trying to maintain ministry when the fact is we are lost and God’s steady hand in our life has slipped from view.

Even then, especially then, He brings mercy. A cool drink of water, a parting of the clouds, a fresh wind from beyond the hills that surround you, that surround me.

Can you see it? Feel it? Recognize it?

I stood on the train platform that day and shared a part of myself I was so used to hiding. God knew more and knew better than I did; He knew what the valley would entail. And He encouraged a moment of vulnerability and accountability that remains even now, six years later.

He wants us to let Him in, and He wants us to let others in when we are facing a valley. We simply must allow a friend, a mentor or a counselor to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of depression. He, too, waits for us, calls to us, whispering the name He has graven on His hands. Our wandering, homeless Saviour Jesus waits for us all the while. Even in the valley, and beyond.

What mercies have been extended to you in the valley?

24 Comments

  1. Jennifer March 18, 2014

    One thing I have learnt is that there is no magic panacea guaranteed to work in the valley, and that no two valleys are the same. Even the same valley will look very different and be experienced differently when seen from a different perspective, when entered from a different direction. Valleys are also not something which we authomatically need to be afraid of, or afraid of walking through. Sometimes I think the biggest lesson we need to learn is that valleys are simply a part of life. Sometimes they are dangerous places for us and we need help to get through them safely. In those times sometimes the biggest challenge is not in accepting that we need help, that we are in what is for us a dangerous place we cannot get ourselves out of alone, but in actually finding that help, even finding someone to speak to. Sometimes what we need is simply someone who will stand with us in the valley, not even necessarily help us find our way out of the valley, but simply not to be afraid to simply stand there with us, acknowledging where we are, agreeing rather than denying how challenging it is, and simply being there. It doesn’t necessarily mean much talking at all, but I can tell you from experience sometimes the greatest gift that you can give is simply to be there. To some people medication and secular counselling have no place in Christians walking through the valley. I do not in any way agree with that. At the same time neither medication nor counselling are necessarily appropriate or an automatic magic panacea for every valley. When we personally have lots of experience in valleys it is sometimes easy to think that what has helped us to walk through our valleys is the thing that someone else needs to do to walk through theirs, especially if they are not doing the thing which may have helped us the most. However, while it is definitely important that we not be afraid to talk about our valleys and what has helped us, to me it is very important that we accept the uniqueness of where each person is at in their valley and not presume to understand or have a guaranteed solution if they would but do it.  Do not ever lose sight of the fact that God is with us in the valleys and on the mountains. Sometimes the greatest gift of all that you can give someone who feels overwhelmed by the valley they are in is simply to be a reflection of God’s acceptance of them in that place rather than focusing on the need to get them out. That can sometimes be the greatest gift that you can give. 

    I am interested in learning what have been the gifts that people have been given by others when they have been in the valley.

    1. Karen Huber March 19, 2014

      You’re so right, Jennifer. A friend to sit, walk, wait with and for you… that’s truly invaluable. And could be the difference between drowning or surviving.

      1. Jennifer March 19, 2014

        Truth is, I know just how significant it can be, because I also know just how rare it can actually be.  Do not underestimate the power of the smallest thing, the single encouraging word, sometimes saying nothing, to someone who is in the valley. Remember too that you do not need to understand, to pray, and that even when you do or say something, it is  not you who needs to find the strength or the wisdom to do it. Ultimately you simply need to be open to allow God to work through you.

        1. Karen Huber March 19, 2014

          Yes, exactly that. I too have been on both sides, with and without. And when I’m in those moments when I don’t know how to pray, I find comfort in the verse in Romans: “…But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” (Rom 8:26).

  2. Brittany March 19, 2014

    Jennifer, I so agree with you that often times, we just need someone to be present with me in the valley.  Not trying to help me out, or to beckon me from the hill on the other side.  Someone to hold my hand and just be.  I’m in a valley right now.  I opened myself up with two friends and became vulnerable.  One friend just told me all the things I was probably doing wrong and what I needed to do to pull myself up by the bootstraps.  Good intentions, but not what my heart needed.  The other friend asked questions that encouraged me to just talk.  She offered little to no advice (only that which I asked of her), and sat in silence a lot as I cried.  She often says, “I know, I understand, I’ve been there.”  Do you know how beautiful those words were to me?  No condemnation, no judgement, no “wordiness”.  She asks me frequently how I am doing, not in an impatient “I wish you would just snap out of it” way.  She has brought us dinner and other things we’ve needed.  ALL of those have been gifts to me.

    I wonder which kind of friend I have been in the past.  The one who carelessly quotes Scripture trying to help someone “get over it,” or the one who simply listens, prays, and serves?  God, help me be a good friend!

  3. Brittany March 19, 2014

    And Karen, this was a precious post.  I am someone who has been in varying degrees of “valley” the last several months.  The valley keeps us entrenched in ourselves, our circumstances, running in circles to escape our doubts and our fears.  God’s purposes for that time run a distant second to surviving it.  Truth.

    1. Karen Huber March 19, 2014

      Thanks for your comment, Brittany. I think I’m currently in a little valley, myself. I hope this encouraged you a little… maybe we can share some of these mercies, together.

  4. Jennifer March 19, 2014

    I am going to disagree with one of your sentenes… not with the heart behind it, but with the strength with which you say it.  You said that “We simply must allow a friend, a mentor or a counselor to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of depression”.  I do happen to strongly disagree with that, not because it is not a very great thing when we do have someone who is an appropriate person and who is prepared to walk through the valley with us, but because if there quite honestly is not someone who can do this for us then it can easily become one more thing that we can feel bad about. To me is also simply true that what matters most ultimately is letting God in rather than necessarily other people. My immediate reaction when I read that sentence was, I know from my experience more than anything, simply to think “why?”… why “simply must”? One thing this last couple of years have taught me is that God himself can be our counsellor, if we will let him. And that not having someone that we can share with at the deepest level when we may recognize we need to, does not in any way mean that we are facing it alone, or failing, or bad. I have simply watched God use many other things, from reading, from radio, from online services, to simply being with people, to work through many things in my life, without significant deep conversations with any specific person for any length of time. (Though in the past he has certainly used counselling and other people). The process actually began for me with me hearing someone speaking on the radio about allowing God to be our counsellor, when I was most strongly seeking someone to talk to and failing. I think what we must do is not necessarily any one specific thing. Our valleys and our experiences and situations are different. What we must do is to be open to all of those things which can help us in our valleys, to all of the things which God can use, and help both ourselves and those around us in their valleys to make connections to the things which can help them the most. Sometimes saying “no” to allowing other people, who are for whatever reason not helpful to us at a particular point of time, too close to us is the right thing to do.

    1. Karen Huber March 19, 2014

      I think that’s a really fair point, Jennifer, and I appreciate how you describe it. Probably a better way for me to put that is “I simply need to let a trusted person in.” I do think we tend to want to hide it all inside – or at least, I do! – and not let anyone or anything in. Some people don’t have the luxury of having anyone trustworthy to share even a piece of it with, you’re right. But I do think it’s hoped for and needed. And I agree that firm boundaries must be in place. Thanks for the comment!

    2. Amy Young March 19, 2014

      Not to get in a semantic battle … but I’d be a “must” person. Not that a person “must” let in many, but as God himself modeled in the trinity, we have been made to be communal and called to bear one another burdens. Yes, we are each individually responsible for ourselves, but that scripture is referring to smaller things in our lives. Here, I’d say that depression is bigger than a small thing — it is a burden that IS too large to bear alone — and also it’s not born by you alone. Your family and friends bear it too 🙂 … even if a person is trying spare others, family and friends will still be impacted. Why? Because we are created to be communal. Rather circular, I know 🙂

      1. Jennifer March 19, 2014

        Amy,

        Right now I strongly disagree with you. I hear exactly what you are saying I think, but to me, in the valley I am still in, it is simply spoken from a perspective of having options of people available, and not being open to them, and is definitely  only part of the picture. It simply says I do not understand, even though I think that you do, and I can hear your heart as well. To me it is starting in the wrong place. I think that being open to  people is important…but at the same time safe, appropriate and helpful are important. If something is not helpful then don’t do it, at least for a time. Take care of yourself. Find what does work for you. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge and be honest about what does not. And recognize that God can use many things, both big and small, to help us in the valley, and just because one thing is not helpful, or even possible in the place where you are, or for you, then do not lose sight of the fact, that it is not the only option. God is with us, even if people are not. To me, it is not semantic. To me it is the life I live. The valley I walk through.

        1. Jennifer March 19, 2014

          It simply hurts.

          1. Amy Young March 19, 2014

            Beyond words. Depression can also be seen as a bit of hell on earth.

          2. Jennifer March 20, 2014

            Amy,

            I meant that what was said hurts, not being in the valley. But then I also know that this is one of my trigger points, so I am usually wise enough to stay well away from it. Not  your fault, my problem. But perhaps indicative of the fact that we all need to remember that making absolute statements around “you must” can be potentially not be helpful and lead to them withdrawing made around people who are in the valley. I agree that encouragement to be open to God and to other people is important, but not necessarily a strong “you must” position which puts me in the wrong, or me somehow lacking if for whatever reason it simply is not an option for me at a given point in time. Being in the valley does not necessarily mean lacking understanding or insight of where you are, or knowing what is or is not helpful, is or is not possible, or knowing what has or has not worked in the past for you. Not having a person to talk to about it also does not equal being alone either. God is bigger than that.

          3. Karen March 20, 2014

            Jennifer, I’m away from home right now so can’t write long, but I am so sorry you were hurt by my post. And I truly don’t think we disagree at all. You are letting Jesus in, the first and best person to depend on. my intention was to encourage those who are in the valley to identify who they might be able to rely on for support in those dark times. And I have also had no one but Jesus… And at other times he has gone me that trusted person and I’m so grateful for that unexpected mercy. I really ask your forgiveness in using a word that shamed you. This site is built on sisterhood and community and I was hoping to affirm that sentiment. blessings to you…

        2. Amy Young March 19, 2014

          Jennifer, I am comfortable with us disagreeing on this :).

          1. Jennifer March 20, 2014

            Amy,

            Right now, honestly I am not. It is too personally sensitive an issue for me to do that yet. I know I probably made a mistake for me, in posting anything about this at all. I will try to say something when I am less upset by it.

  5. Sheryl March 19, 2014

    Jennifer – thanks for that cause at the moment I’m in a valley and I’ve no one to go through it with. It is an encouragement to hear the phrase God is and can be that counsellor.  Thanks Karen for a thoughtful piece.

    1. Karen Huber March 19, 2014

      Sheryl, thank you for the comment. I’m praying that you will find a quiet moment of encouragement and soul care this week!

    2. Jennifer March 19, 2014

      Sheryl,

      I know that it is true simply because I have lived it.  The transcript of the radio show that I heard which first challenged me personally in this area remains for me one of the clearest statements I have read in how God is and wants to be our Counselor.  I just went and found it and reread it.  It may be as helpful to you as it has proven to me, in the almost 2 years since I first heard it. The link to it is http://christianworkingwoman.org/broadcast/our%2bwonderful%2bcounselor-1/

       

    3. Amy Young March 19, 2014

      Sheryl, my above comment is not meant to add to your burden! Unfortunately part of being in the valley is feeling  (and being) isolated. Most definitely God will meet you! But he’s also been known to send help in unusual forms that we might not see as help (Thinking of Elijah and the birds here. I bet he didn’t expect birds to help him!). Sheryl, may you feel even a little bit less alone today. Thank you for letting us bear this with you, even if only in these small ways. And I’m sorry you’re in a valley. I am truly sorry!

  6. Sheryl March 20, 2014

    Thanks Amy 🙂

    Funny my devotional today was on Elisha! I didn’t mean to spark a heated debate. I do appreciate all the insights. With Gratitude.

    1. Sheryl March 20, 2014

      Sorry Elijah! Always get those two mixed up

  7. Jennifer March 20, 2014

    Karen,

    I am not hurt or upset with your post or with what you have said… I think that you heard what I was saying… I appreciated what you said in response to me very much. The thing that I found challenging today was Amy’s strong insistence on “must” which I am sensitive to still right now, because of recent experience of it not being possible, and no one prepared to do that for me where I am, but at the same time, my strong learning that God does work in other ways as well, and we need to really be sensitive to what is appropriate, best and most helpful in a given situation for each person, and especially what can help when the ideal world of a person to talk to face to face is simply impossible.  I do hear your heart and I am thankful for your posting. It is the closest I have come yet in talking about my recent or current experience and what I am learning through it.  That it is sensitive is simply part of the story, part of the journey.

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