lessons from the valley of the shadow

Two months ago, with my calendar freshly turned to a new year, I wrote some goals in accordance with the thanksgiving offering in Leviticus 2:

  • Like the patient farmer who abides by the cycles of the seasons, I want to rely on God to faithfully bring His work to completion in me, even when it takes longer than I think it should.
  • Like the Israelites who offered back to God the very first produce of their harvest, I want to give Him the first and best of my life, trusting that He can multiply it.
  • And like the ones who brought whatever they had - whether it was tiny seedling growth or baked unleavened bread - I want to offer God my "now" in faith that He knows and controls my future.
  • And in all of this, to give thanks, because that's what the thanksgiving offering is for.

I could not have known that the very next day, everything would change.

Just like that, black clouds rolled in and I stepped into the Valley of the Shadow - and just like that, everything on my list of New Year goals seemed like long-ago dreams from a distant, carefree life.

I feel stuck here in the dark, cold winter, and it's hard to patiently wait for more days of dark and cold to pass before the world brightens and blooms again.

I feel exhausted from white-knuckle gripping everything I still have, too scared to release any of it - let alone the first and best of it - into the hands of God.

I feel I'm still reeling from offering God my "now" on January 1 and the very next day, stepping blindly into a future that it sometimes feels like He's forsaken.

I must confess: Giving thanks has been, most days, one of the very last things on my mind.

Every day has been a lesson in survival - surviving what feels like a sheer-cliff ascent which requires me to empty my hands of all I possess, and to completely trust that should my foot slip, God will catch me.

Most of the time, I don't think I do it very well.

But my mom - who is navigating the same Valley that I am - said something that I have been clinging to: "God puts us in these places so that we will learn to rely completely on Him."

And I look back at the very first goal I had written down: "Like the patient farmer who abides by the cycles of the seasons, I want to rely on God to faithfully bring His work to completion in me."

I'm not sure why I ever thought I could learn to rely on God while walking on my own two feet on flat ground under a summer-blue sky - or why I ever thought being totally re-shaped from something dead into a new creation would be a painless process. I'm not sure why it took so much to snap me out of the delusion that God's love is any more constant in the sunshine than in the shadow.

As Job said, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10).

It's been a long, hard, cold winter. But I am learning: Learning that God can handle my excruciating emotions, and that He is in all the places I cannot be, and that He really is good ALL the time, and that He still does miracles, and that there is no request too small to be beneath His notice, and that when life seems to be darkest He will always send a ray of light.

He may not interrupt the rhythm of the seasons to bring my hardship to a quicker resolution, but He will walk with me while every day gets a little longer and a little lighter.

So today, I choose to give thanks - not only for what He has done, but for what I choose to trust that He will do. No winter lasts forever.

Sing praise to the LORD, you His godly ones, and give thanks to His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.
— Psalm 30:4-5
I'm not sure why I ever thought I could learn to rely on God while walking on my own two feet on flat ground under a summer-blue sky - or why I ever thought being totally re-shaped from something dead into a new creation would be a painless process. {lessons from the valley of the shadow}