Even though I walk through the darkest valley (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.
Here are two things about this verse which were brought to my attention this Summer at the National (LCMS) Youth Gathering in New Orleans (#nyg2016):
- You are WITH me
Believe me, hard times happen to us all. Half the time I swear that the hardest things that happen to me are my own fault. Stuff happens (substitute the word “stuff” in that cliche with whatever colorful noun you’d prefer, you’d be correct.)
While worry and a lack of gratitude to God may be sins, let’s face it- sometimes our circumstances are out of our control. Angst is a combination of anger or frustration and anxiety about things beyond our influence. Sometimes it’s the valley.
What’s worse, our own frail flesh and nature (not just deliberately sinful choices) may make things seem darker than they are. Sometimes it’s the shadows.
Anxiety and depression are legitimate mental health issues. Sure, they’re often cognitive (we think our way into them) but that doesn’t make it simple to just snap out of it. And often they’re much more than cognitive, they’re hormonal, chemical or neurological. We may need professional help or medication or both. Take them seriously. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek medical, pastoral, or psychological help. Lutheran Family Services of Iowa offers counseling services. http://www.darkmyroad.org is a book by Lutheran Pastor’s struggle with clinical depression.
The thing is, no matter how sad or how frightened we are- we don’t have to dig in or remain paralyzed. Because 1. God didn’t lead us to the valley of shadows to abandon us and 2. He’s with us, even in the worst of times.
I’m constantly beating myself up over my lack of faith. Surely if I believed stronger, I’d have peace and joy. Other times I’m wresting with God, struggling to trust Him. If He really loved me, he wouldn’t let this happen..
But there are several things God’s done to give me a push to keep me going.
- Sometimes He reveals to me that there are many, many others who have it much worse than me.
- Sometimes He reminds me of all the previous valleys, often worse that the latest one, which He already brought me through unscathed.
- Very often He brings people across my path whom He wants to use me to encourage, support, listen to, mentor, or pray for. When I’m focusing my empathy or compassion on someone else, I’m too busy to wallow in my own problems.
Several times this Summer God’s reminded me of 1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
One of those times was at that Youth Gathering when a former college classmate shared his story of how God used his valleys to shape and form him so that God could use him to minister to others. Listen to http://www.trustguyministries.com, you will never see 1 Peter 5:7 the same way again.
Micah Parker, “the TrusT Guy” is one of the people who taught me that God brings us THROUGH the valleys, not just to them. As or more importantly, God is always there WITH us, even if we can’t see it because things are so dark.
Sometimes I just don’t know why the darkness doesn’t seem to lift and the valley hast to be so hard, so deep and so far. But at least I know that I’m not alone. For one thing, I’m by no means the only person who’s ever suffered. For another thing, Jesus knows what it means to suffer. He suffered even death on a cross. On top of that, He’s with you here and now, right in the middle of every valley, every shadow, including death itself.
Remember the Christmas carol, Oh come o come Emanuel? Emanuel means “God with us.”
So whatever you do, don’t stop moving. Jesus is moving with you.