“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death I 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.
You have anointed my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
During my morning quiet time earlier this week, I had one of those “Aha!” moments that sometimes come to us as we’re reading and thinking. This Psalm speaks of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and I began to ask myself some questions. What is this Valley? What does it feel like? How do we get there? More importantly, how to we get through it?
As I did a little research, I learned a couple of interesting things about valleys. A valley is defined as an elongated, somewhat flat area of land lying between two hills, that typically has a river or stream running through it. Since water often symbolizes life, especially in the Scriptures, it didn’t seem logical to equate a valley with Death! But maybe I needed to adjust my thinking about this.
Whenever someone we love dies, we enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It is not the reality of death itself, but rather a temporary darkness that Death casts into our lives. Being surrounded by a hovering, gray fog. Unable to see the way clearly ahead. Being hemmed in on every side. Feeling like my own life and purpose have died. Intense loneliness. These all describe the Valley of the Shadow of Death. There’s no escape but to go straight through it!
The Valley can bring fear – fear of all kinds of evil – sometimes totally irrational fear. What about my finances? How will I manage? Am I safe in my home? What about my children? Will I be alone for the rest of my life? In this place of shadow, the Lord, the Great Shepherd walks with us. He holds our hand to guide us. He’s not lost because He’s walked this way before. He shines a light on our pathway. He keeps us from falling.
Perhaps this Valley is a sheltered, well-watered place of protection for me during a time when I’m in danger of losing my way, of being overcome with Shadow. Just maybe I need to change my perspective to understand the purpose of the Valley more clearly.
The Valley is the place where the Shepherd can comfort my heart. He can lead me beside that gently flowing river that drains the spacious grasslands. He brings people into my life to provide community when I’m feeling lonely. He feeds me physically and spiritually and nourishes my emotions. He anoints my thoughts so that they are transformed to thoughts of gratitude. My life overflows with His blessings, and occasionally, the sun even begins to peek through the clouds, bringing joy and gladness. My life is under His mercy, and He promises to be with me forever. That means there’s an end to the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
One day, when our hearts have been sheltered and healed for a time, we will walk out the other end of the Valley into a place of purpose and sunshine. In the middle of the fog, we cannot yet see what will be. But we know one thing to be true, God still has a plan to give us a future and a hope. An overcoming hope. Faith-filled hope that will allow us to thrive and live with a new joy.