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The Valley

Updated: Jan 17, 2022

Dr. R.B.McFee

4“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death….

Psalm 23:4

Have you ever been in a valley – be it spiritual, emotional, career-wise, or physical? Because if you live long enough (which is to say starting with kindergarten) you are likely to encounter a time in life where the sunshine is dimmed, the view obscured, the air thicker, the confusion often overwhelming, and the gloom more intense. The sense of aloneness is palpable, even in the midst of a crowd – loving, or otherwise.

The “valley” times in our lives are unavoidable, although we often wish they weren’t. Even Jesus had to cross the Kidron Valley as a transit route to places of joy, and unimaginable suffering. Travelers throughout Judea had to cross dangerous valleys to transit south to north into various parts of Israel. It was in one such place that the Good Samaritan came across a wounded man, who, first hand experienced the dangers of a valley.

Just read about the battlefield tactics from Sparta to West Point; ”the valley” is taught as a place to trap your adversaries, but one to avoid at all cost, given the high ground is the strategic ground. In similar fashion, there’s a reason castle walls are high; they create an artificial valley from which to look down upon potential threats.

But for most of us, the valleys aren’t fraught with bandits, or warring armies.

If you are a person of faith, like me, during “valley times” you probably turn to the scriptures, if not the calming prescription of Dr. Ben and Dr. Jerry (rocky road, 4 tablespoons BID).

From David throughout Judaism and Christianity Psalm 23 seems to be one of the “go to” scriptures when we need to feel the Presence and comfort of our Lord, especially in ”valley” times.

Yet how often have we read that venerable Psalm and in the process raced to ‘the good part’…. the words of encouragement, the promise really, the commitment from God that says “He restores my soul…..surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life” parts of the chapter.

Even amidst verse 4 we often skip the full range of it. Yet every verse, every word carries some meaning to learn and grow from. Even if it is a caveat, or confirmation that danger does indeed surround you…..

4“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me….”

Psalm 23:4

….because in the midst of that darkness, that danger, God is ever Present, even if we can’t see the faint glow of His Light. He is there to comfort. His rod is there to protect, His staff to confirm total authority of your situation, every situation.

As a rookie climber the reality stares all of us in the face every time we tie in and start up – we are surrounded by challenges, and you can’t have high ground without low ground. You have to climb up from somewhere. Cuts, bangs, bruises come with the territory. You can’t have a mountaintop without the valley below it.

Let’s face it. We all like and want mountaintop experiences, even if we don’t necessarily want to actually do the climbing to get there. Did someone say gondola ride?! Once at the top the view is literally heavenly. You feel like you can touch the sky. And on some mountains, you are in fact above the clouds.

Beyond the satisfaction of a job well done, accomplishments achieved, and success revealed, is the powerful solitude of a mountaintop experience.

Although one hopes gratitude is part of such times of reflection, too, in reality it is often because we overlook Who helped us get there, or are phoning Home, talking to God in protected time less and less that often leads us down a rocky slope into the valley.

Sometimes success is the most dangerous time. Kipling once warned that success and failure are “twin imposters.” It can be a tough lesson to embrace.

The other day I was reading from the devotional The Pastor Is In; A thirty day faith devotional inspired by Peanuts® written by Rev. Rigel J. Dawson. The daily lesson, titled Prepare for Hills and Valleys was the second time that day I had read about valleys. Taking the hint from Above, is it any wonder the blog this week is about valleys?!

Getting back to the story….

The Peanuts ® cartoon framing that daily lesson has Charlie Brown and Lucy in conversation. Lucy starts out saying “sometimes I get discouraged.” Ever the philosopher, Charlie says “well Lucy, life does have its ups and downs you know….” After some lovable ranting as only Lucy can do, about why her life should be filled with only “ups,” she ends the discussion emphatically declaring “I DON’T WANT ANY ‘DOWNS!’ I JUST WANT ‘UPS’ AND ‘UPS’ AND ‘UPS’!

As an aside, I can think of one shipping company that might want to purchase that cartoon as an advertisement. That said, we all want ‘UPS’ in life, not the down time.

The reality we face, as folks older than 9, there isn’t a mythical land of “should,” and recognize there are times of joy and sorrow, ups and downs, valleys and mountains.

Jesus no more wanted to be crucified than the men to his left and right on Golgotha. It was the ultimate valley, the ultimate ‘down’ time. But He knew that valley had to be crossed.

And down deep, we know our valleys are times that have to be crossed. But we can take heart that ….

4“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me….”

Psalm 23:4

There are no coincidences in God’s Kingdom, or apparently my eclectic reading, because earlier that morning I had come across a passage in the book After the fall; the remarkable comeback of Richard Nixon, by Kasey S. Pipes (let’s face it, who doesn’t love a “comeback kid,” story, right?!).

In it former President Nixon was talking to one of his assistants, describing his post Watergate moments as being in “the deepest valley;” but that the entire ordeal he would “see it through,” because it was a “test of character and we must not fail the test.”

History will likely show, Nixon not only atoned for his part in Watergate, but would go on to serve the US as a valued advisor to Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

As Christians happily we embrace the notion of redemption. And we all recognize as flawed people, we will hit a valley. The “test of character,” and faith is how we traverse the rocky road, and grasping God’s Hand, climb out towards a mountaintop of serving Him.

And sometimes valleys get a bad rap, too.

Consider in Matthew 14, Jesus ministered to thousands of people, who were on the hillside, and valley around the mountain. It was where, taking a handful of food, and through the Power of God, Jesus managed to multiply meager portions into enough to feed everyone in attendance.

In this instance “the valley” was a teaching place for the masses. They knew there was more to their lives than what they were living. For thousands of Jews that late afternoon, they were in a spiritual valley, whether they recognized their lives that way or not at the time. “The valley” was Jesus’ classroom that day, and theirs.

We are often told that God uses the valleys in our lives to teach us. I don’t know about you, but if valleys are indeed God’s university, sometimes if feels like I’ve spent enough time there to earn a PhD.

But if we are intellectually and spiritually honest, it is in the valley times of our lives that we are forced to examine things in depth, and to encounter God in ways we might not do were we basking in the sun focused on mountain top experiences.

In our successes we sometimes lose our commitment of constancy with Christ. The efforts and enjoyments of ascending often crowd out the Voice and Presence of the Holy Spirit to our consciousness. And while success is sweeping us, we often overlook the fact we may be spiritually “running with scissors,” and need to be told that is unsafe, to stop, and look where we are going.

In climbing it is referred to as getting “off route.” Every climb is designed to have a safer, preferred route. Life is the same way. To be sure, if we are skilled enough we can get past certain situations on skill or grit alone. But that only gets you so far.

That’s where the valleys occur. They are not designed necessarily to hurt us. In fact they exist as God’s detours for us. It is where He calls us back to Him. “The valley” is a place where God is trying to teach us something.

But life, and God as our Teacher, uses every situation to bless and inform, instruct, and inspire us. Life isn’t a punishment, although sometimes valley times and moments of struggle may make it feel that way. Regardless of our position in life, and which of the “twin imposters” seems to be in play at the moment in our lives, God is still available to Guide us, if we take the time to humbly ask.

Perhaps that is why, after what some might refer to as a ‘rock star’ performance, instead of celebrating with His crew, Jesus sent everyone away, including His Disciples, and went up a mountain to pray. In the process teaching us that mountaintop experiences aren’t always places to high five our successes, as Jesus easily could have done, but also places for gratitude, and reflection on our blessings. Perhaps it is in the reverence of God’s bounty, our success times – whether frequent or few – are kept in perspective, and still enjoyed.

There are many scriptures in the Bible – Old and New Testaments – about valleys, mountaintops, and God being there with and for us in all stages of our lives. We are told that what is meant for harm can be turned for good through God’s grace and guidance. Psalm 23 assures us of that, and it has stood the test of time for David, Jews, and Christians for thousands of years.

We are all “Lucy” down deep. It is a mortal trait. But Charlie Brown rightly reminds us that valleys, and mountains are both part of the human experience. And God has promised, through Psalms, and many other scriptures to comfort, teach, guide, and love us, no matter where we are. So walk the valley proudly…you and I are in Good company, being assured of “surely goodness and mercy shall follow us,”

And knowing “the valley” is where God will feed you, with bread and fish, His power and His wisdom….

“And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore I will rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

II Corinthians 12:9

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