You truly are Not Alone!
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Psalm 23 paints a peace and rest-filled abundant life with our Shepherd. Then in the moment right after the reassurance our Shepherd “leads in paths for His name’s sake,” the path turns through a dark valley.
And not just dark, but a valley of the shadow of death. Along the path, in the haze and chill, we see shadows of gravestones of lost roles, relationships, dreams, plans, hopes, expectations, assignments, opportunities.
Whether we call this shadowy place a valley, desert, or wilderness, here is where we are most likely to be tempted to give up, doubt, and turn away from our calling. It feels precarious and unsafe in the unfamiliar landscape.
It is the place we want to leave. NOW. Better yet, yesterday.
Valleys of the soul, like deserts, seem like dry, lonely, forlorn places. From a distance, they look stark and barren. But up close, when you are in it, you start to notice the subtleties of its beauty and life.
Here’s the thing. God likes the desert. We know this because so many significant moments happen in the desert. Callings are solidified in the desert air of the valley. The land He physically chose for His people is mostly desert. He likes the desert because here He proves Himself faithful and true. It is here we need our Shepherd like no other place.
Often we find ourselves wandering around in the parched land of the valley for awhile before we even realize we are in it. The trigger that brought you here might be a seemingly insignificant loss or series of losses. Maybe a “simple” move turned into an avalanche of transitions. Perhaps a crisis pulled you into the valley and then you couldn’t find your way out.
Whatever turn you took, you ended up here in a valley you didn’t consciously choose.
What previously gave you joy begins to feel like obligation. You put forth your best effort to resolve a relational issue and it’s met with heart rendering rejection or prolonged adversity. You work hard. And fail. Influence, favor, health, and resources slip through your fingers. You, my dear one, are in the wilderness of the valley.
Once you realize you’ve entered this wild, dark place, you start looking for a way out.
But the pathways are marred by disappointment, dissonance, loneliness, and isolation. You react with strong emotion to things that never bothered you before.
To navigate the valley, you realize you have to shed some things: hidden sins, unrefined beliefs, unhealthy patterns, misaligned affections.
The valley is the place you begin to come to terms with the limits of your abilities and resources. Outward fruit seems to have disappeared, but inwardly – oh, this is where it gets good – inwardly, seeds are planted in the dark soil of the valley.
You can’t get to the next place your Shepherd wants to lead you without walking through the valley. It is the place to grow in dependence on the Shepherd, learning to let go of self-reliance as you deepen your trust in Him.
In the valley, the Good Shepherd molds your heart to align with His. Character patterns such as wholeheartedness, humility, sustainability, boundaries, and Christ-centeredness are shaped and set by the intensity of the valley.
Wholeness comes as wounds are healed. Freedom grows as misaligned attachments are disentangled. Deep transformational work weans you from the need to prove yourself. What flows out of you begins to feel like life and health as passageways are unplugged and repaired.
Valleys are also a place of birth. At first you wouldn’t think so because no one can see you’re pregnant, but as you walk through the valley, the weightiness and expansion of what you carry starts to show.
What else happens in the valley? Discovery and refinement of the essence of who God created you to be prepares you for what God has for you to do. Owning who you truly are allows you to live out the truth of how God sees you and relate to Him in agreement with Him about who you are.
But the ultimate gift of the valley is knowing the Shepherd more deeply, truly, fully.
Believing your Shepherd is with you may be the most challenging part of prolonged time in the valley. Don’t mistake silence for absence. He is with you, always at work, even when His activity is hidden.
We have underdeveloped, limited understanding of the unlimited ways God works. We are often looking for outward evidences of His presence while He is actively working in us.
Your pathway through the valley didn’t come about because of a wrong turn. Your Shepherd is with you on the journey. He will not abandon you or leave you there. And when you have passed through the valley, your love for the Shepherd of your soul and understanding of His steadfast love for you will have marked your deepest and truest self.
A few questions for those of you in a valley:
- What has your Shepherd been saying to you in this valley season?
- If you were to embrace what you understand of His purposes for your time in the valley, what would that look like?
- What do you understand about your Shepherd that you didn’t know before you entered the valley?
- If God is more interested in your heart than your productivity, what does that mean for your time in the valley?
- If God is inviting you into something new in your relationship with Him, what might that be?
Note: My understanding of valleys has been significantly shaped by working through The Calling Journey by Tony Stoltzfus. I encourage you to explore it.
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