The Valley of the Shadow is quiet and still, with no breath of wind and no bright and shining sun to illuminate that dim pathway that draws us onward. It is always twilight here. The shadows fall deep, distorting our images as we cautiously make our way toward the western horizon. All is spoken in whispers, knowing that careless words hold the power to cause the cloaks of courage that we wrap ourselves in to fall from our shoulders.
There is no sorrow that does not point in longing to some lost blessing. This is true, even in the case of dashed dreams — where we find ourselves ever standing on the outside, peering through the window at those who possess those blessings for which we have only dared to dream. The loss of hope is perhaps the most tragic of all loss. Hope is a powerful blessing that we often take for granted. Even when we are in the most difficult and desperate situations, hope remains our ally — spurring us on toward a better day. How dark is that day when we come to the stark realization that those things we had hoped and lived for will never come to pass!
A common tendency is to curse God for what was lost, forgetting that beautiful reminder from Scripture: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) Every breath of life is an amazing gift — if only we could recognize it as such. If we could just stop in the midst of the craziness of life and look around us with thankful eyes at the magnificence of the creation around us — to really see and appreciate the light and color and beauty of even the simplest things. What incredible power there is in the senses given us, and how richly are those senses blessed with the ability to hear the most heavenly chorus, to appreciate the soft, pleasant scent of a rose (no less rivaled by its beauty) or to know the comfort that comes from a gentle caress? All of these things whisper to us the love of our Creator toward us; the question is: can we hear His voice?
If we give ourselves fully over to the despair of loss, we run the risk of blinding ourselves to the blessings that remain. I think the greatest challenge in life is to really live with our eyes wide open — not only to the blessings of God that surround us all, but also to the suffering and sorrows that we all share in common. Where does the courage come from to face head-on the inevitable loss of all that we hold dear, including life itself? Corrie Ten Boom, in addressing the great suffering she endured in a concentration camp and in the annihilation of her family members, stated the following: “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” Truly there is no sorrow so deep — no pit of despondency and despair so abysmal where God’s hand cannot reach. If we would only reach out to grasp His great, outstretched hand and recognize that He is there to lift us out of our misery — to give us the peace that passes all understanding, and the hope that does not disappoint.
Surely His incredible love and grace is shown in the gifts He has given us — and that same love is also the sustaining power that gives us the courage we need in the day of loss. What skinned knee was not made more bearable by the loving, comforting and strength-giving arms of a parent? In that moment of seemingly unbearable pain and fear, our courage was restored as we drew from their strength and wisdom — their words of comfort, which assured us everything was going to be alright.
Suffering is inevitable in this broken world, but God has not left us without resource. Scripture tells us, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalms 34:18) His presence is seen in all of nature and the provision that He makes for each of us on this earth — food and shelter and love that draws us out and helps us to grow. Likewise, He is there in the dark shadows. His light illuminates that dimmed path and leads us onward with the courage and determination that come from faith. We are not left to walk the dark road alone, and those who belong to Christ walk onward through the darkness, clinging to the hope of a never-ending day — where the blessings of life have no end, all tears are wiped away, and death and decay are no more.
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