It is often said life is a journey and it seems to me that we rarely travel long on level plains without hill or vale. Sooner or later we all come to some canyon we must cross or after traveling upward for some time we reach the peak of the mountain only to look down into a dark valley that lies before us.
This week I have been reminded once again of the depth of pain and suffering all around me. I do not have to look far to find someone who is traveling through a valley in their life. This world is not a world of ‘happy endings’ or ‘happily ever afters’, it is a world of sin and sorrow. It is a world of cancer, divorce, loss, struggle, poverty, sin and death, and I am glad we have hope for another place.
However, I do not think we were intended to spend our lives in sorrow or despair. There is also great joy to be found here; sometimes we just have to look for it in unexpected places. It is easy to find on level plains and on high hills, but great joy, peace, and comfort can also be found in those dark valleys.
I remember a conversation I had with a friend not long after my husband’s death. She had been sitting on my porch when she commented that the wind did not blow as hard at my house as it did at hers. She pointed out that while her home sat on a hill and caught the brunt of the West Texas wind, my house sits slightly lower than the land around it and was protected from the wind. I had not thought about it before, but I guess it did somewhat resemble a valley. It reminded me of the valleys in my life through which I had already passed and it gave me hope for the valley I faced as a single parent.
The deepest valley I ever faced was when my oldest son was left severely brain damaged following open heart surgery at the age of five. My once normal little boy would never walk, talk, feed himself, or even hold his head up again, but God had carried me through that valley and it was there that I learned a valley is a sheltered place of growth and restoration. It is sheltered because we cannot see what lies beyond the next rise. We are protected there because we are kept in a place where we must trust the Lord each day to direct our every step; it is there that our hearts desire paths of righteousness and we learn that we cannot find those paths on our own. In the valley we learn to trust God alone for our provision and protection; because we cannot see ahead, we learn to trust His sovereignty. It is there in a place where the only big things are mountain walls all around us that we learn to thank Him for the little things. It is in the valley that God restores our delight in simple pleasures like small flowers and gentle brooks. And it is there in the valley that we learn to praise Him for each new day – each new morning that we are given the strength to get up and travel on. If we are to travel through the valley, we must learn these lessons and trust our guide, or we will perish there.
The restoration I received in that first deep valley may not have been the type of restoration for which I had once prayed. My son would never be fully or wholly restored, but God chose instead to restore my peace, my faith, and my trust. The process was long and painful and took many years, but as I looked back on it now, I know that were it not for the pain my child suffered, I would chose no differently for myself.
When I found myself facing life as a single parent and looking down into another deep vale, I did not pray for a glimpse of tomorrow as I did when I brought my son home from the hospital, nor did I pray for restoration in a new relationship or marriage. I knew from past experience that I might not fully comprehend all that I had lost, but I also knew that just as I might not be able to handle the knowledge of how rough and deep the valley that lay ahead may be, the restoration and growth that could be found in that valley would also be beyond anything that I could imagine or comprehend. And so I did the only thing that I could do; I prayed that the Lord would give me the strength to move each day – strength to do what I must do to travel on, to trust Him, and to praise Him for the simple pleasures that are to be found in each day and the peace that follows trust and praise.