I moved to the valley, eleven years ago when my father first got sick. Six years ago, he died. I thought at some point after his death I would move out of the valley. Instead, my mother, after years of caring for my Dad, got sick and my life in the valley continued.
You probably know this valley. It’s the same one mentioned in Psalm 23….”Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Yeah, that valley.
I chose to move here years before I understood where I was moving to. Back when I was young and had no idea of what it would cost me. I knew I wanted to stay in the same city as my parents. My plan always was to care for them, when the time came.
The funny thing about moving to the valley is that you don’t necessarily realize you’ve moved until you’ve lived there for a while. The move is both gradual and sudden. Your loved one ages and you start to help in little ways. A sudden illness or injury and you help out a bit as they recover. What you don’t know at the time, is that sudden injury or illness is starting a chain of events that would have overwhelmed you had you ever realized your address had just changed and there was no moving back any time soon.
We all know what valleys look like. They are low places, with shadows that hang over on all sides.. And these low places are filled with things most of us try to avoid. Like fear and death. In the valley, fear takes on a life of it’s own…it has a form and a shape and it looks like death. The threat of death, is always lurking in the shadows. And then there’s the bone wearying tiredness and overwhelming and sometimes debilitating sense of loss, along with a need to always be on guard for the next problem.
In the valley you learn to fight. Against ignorance…your own and others. You fight against your nightmares, which threaten to become reality. You fight to do what’s right. You fight against yourself when you want to quit and with others when they want you to quit. The valley can be an exhausting place.
With all the lows of the valley, one might think it is a place to avoid. Certainly anyone who chooses to live there can’t be right in the head!
But here’s the thing….there is beauty in the valley. Beauty you can’t see anywhere else. There’s a beauty in the valley that transcends even what a mountain top view can offer. And the company in the valley is the reason for the view. Psalm 23….The psalm that talks about walking through the valley of the shadow of death, also gives a promise. And it’s the promise that provides the beauty.
“Yea,though I walk though the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for YOU are with me…..”.
Early on in the valley, I feared evil. I was terrified by it. Death was evil. It was the enemy that you knew would win in the end, but that you would fight against with all your might. The exhaustion that comes with fighting an enemy that is guaranteed to win is not only exhausting, it’s foolish.
I was controlled by my fears until I met Submission. Submitting to the reality of our inability to control when someone dies moves you from a very dark valley, to a new valley where there is beauty and potential….right in front of you, that you are now freed up to see. Submission is not giving up. It’s not laying down the fight. But it is recognizing what you can and can’t control. Its choosing when and where to fight. It allows you to see who the real enemy is.
Sometimes the enemy is ourselves…Fear is everywhere in the valley. Left to our own devices, fear can overtake us. But when I remember that the Psalm promises….”YOU are with me”...the fear is tamed and in the best moments, it is vanquished.
That YOU it mentions, is the Creator of Heaven and Earth. I don’t just have a good friend or family member with me…..(though praise God when I do)……I have the God of the Universe with me! He reminds me that even though I live in the valley, the valley isn’t all there is. I’m choosing to live here for a time, so that the people I love don’t have to walk through this place alone. Walking alongside someone who is in the valley, has eternal significance.
God knows how we look at death. He knows how death and the fear of death motivates our choices. He knows we need him beside us to walk though this valley. When we freely and willingly go through the valley so someone else won’t be there alone, we are doing exactly what He has done for us.
And that is what love does. It comes alongside. It sits with us in the mess that the end of life can bring. It is a place filled with loss and sadness. They grieve and you grieve with them. You grieve for the pain they feel. For who they were and what has been lost. Their address has changed since coming to the valley and it makes them disoriented. You remind them, no matter where they live, whether it’s in a place they’ve always known, or a dark valley or in heaven…they are loved. You are the physical hands and feet of Jesus as they journey to what’s waiting for them, at the other side. It’s an opportunity to bring light to the shadows and love to dark places. And that love, makes it all worthwhile.
So these days, if you’re looking for me, you’ll find me in the valley. I’m not sure how long I’ll be staying, but I won’t regret a moment spent here. For although the walk is shadowed by death, the path is filled with life and love.