This is a re-posting of my thoughts on Advent from last year. As I’ve reflected on these words from last year, I have found myself with new thoughts to share with you about how the holidays can affect survivors and what is needed to overcome in this place. Since this post is the backdrop to my new thoughts, I’m sharing it again here. More soon, God willing.
I have been walking this dark, lonely road for some years I can’t seem to count right now. And though there has been the gift of His presence with me, lately I haven’t been able to see the path I’m on in this dark valley.
This valley has a name…in Psalm 23, Isaiah 9, Luke 1 – it is the valley of the shadow of death.
I’ve heard whispers of hope, interspersed into a multitude of barraging thoughts about how long this road might be,
or if there is ever really an end to it.
Some of those whispers have been lovingly and sacrificially delivered by the few who have my trust.
And there is another voice in this dark that whispers just this:
“Let she who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the Name of the Lord and rely on her God.” (Is. 50:10)
Nothing more. No maps, no flashlight, no light at the end of the tunnel. Just the gentle voice of the Whisperer.
I saw this a few months ago:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me by quiet waters, He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Ps. 23)
And though I’ve read it dozens of times, I saw for the first time, that walking in the path of righteousness for His Name’s sake – includes walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
And I don’t think any one of us who walk with Him get to escape this path.
And so I have gone, through the years. Unwillingly at times, but finally resigning myself to walking this path out of desperation until I see that there is fruit – that it is the path of righteousness to walk here, and my soul settles a bit.
It is quiet here, walking on this path through the valley of the shadow of death, in an effort to walk the path of righteousness He has laid out for each of us. There is His presence (for you are with me), and there is comfort in knowing that His protection (the rod) and His leading and guiding (the staff) will not mislead me.
So we keep going forward.
Even when all is dark.
Even when there is no light.
Even when the path becomes long and the darkness doesn’t lift.
But I – (maybe you too?) – have walked here for so long, that my heart has grown weary. So I sit for a bit. And then walk again.
Until the path is so overwhelmingly long and the darkness is so overwhelmingly dark that HOPE seems to be just a mirage – the path through the valley of the shadow of death so long that I am convinced that it is meant -at least for some people – to be without end.
And I count myself one of those.
And so I lay down there…..
And for awhile, I don’t get up.
And the world outside me keeps pushing and shoving and expecting and demanding….and
I have just laid down in the dark on the inside,
wearily taking a step here or a step there,
but without hoping that any of the steps are in the right direction to an exit.
But lately, I have felt that there is something more going on here in this dark, hushed place where I don’t see and where I am not seen.
As it is the Advent season, the season of waiting – for Him to come, I come to Him weary each day, silent.
Silent because He already knows what I am waiting for
…..and maybe I don’t have the courage to keep asking for it anymore.
And maybe I am afraid to hope anymore.
So I ask Him this one thing:
“Is there really any hope – this side of heaven? On this unforgiving earth? Is there a space here on this spinning globe where a light eventually dawns, and – dare I say it? – JOY breaks forth?
I cringe, waiting for my sentence – the one I know must be mine – the one where the hope for living in freedom and light was stolen from me once and for all before I could even talk.
I reason that some people were just meant to dwell here, in the dark and the pain of not seeing.
And I count myself among these unlucky ones, and I expect His answer to be the consolation prize – the one where there was just something so inherently wrong with me, that the promises I read that proclaim hope were just not meant to be – for me.
But out of the dark, He answers me:
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those LIVING in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned. (Is. 9:2)
And I see it now.
We all must walk through the valley of the shadow of death as part of walking the path of righteousness in this life.
But He came as a light to those living in the land of the shadow of death.
He came for the ones whose journey stalled out there, in that valley of death, for so long that they finally settled for just living there.
For the ones who weren’t just passing through anymore, but who actually got stuck living there, for whatever reason.
And He came for us all,
but His light dawned the brightest on those who had given up hope of finding their own way out of that valley and just settled for living in the dark, shadowy death.
I am among these. He came for the ones who sat down – or laid down – in the darkness, and gave up.
He came for the ones who stopped hoping there was an end to this dark path, and made their homes the best they could right there in that valley, with death weighing down heavy on their every breath.
He came as light to those who got lost in the darkest of nights, and who were never going to find their own way out.
He came for you. And He came for me. And He came to all the weary and the worn and the given up ones…..
And He did it for this reason:
…because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)
To the ones who had given up.
To those who made their homes in Death Valley.
Not to leave us there.
To guide our feet into the path of peace.
And as I read, I remember Psalm 23, and I read Isa 9 and then Luke 1 with new eyes –
and the hope I have might be this:
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned……For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens me, the bar across my shoulders, and the rod of my oppressors,” that rod that weighs too heavy to keep walking forward and out. (Isa 9:2,4)
This is why He came.
And my hope is small, maybe even nearly non-existent, but there is a spark and maybe I can cling to this hope: that a great light will dawn on my dark dwelling, and on the dark dwellings of those of you who have also given up the journey through, and made your dwelling there permanent, because the dark road got too long.
So, whatever it is that you are waiting for – as His coming draws near – as we “advent” – as we wait…
maybe we can wait together with the hope that His light will dawn, and that He will do what He came to do, even for the ones who have near given up a thousand times over, like me.
Maybe we can rest our hope tonight on His Word not returning void:
that He came for us, and He will continue to come for us until it is all healed, until the works of the enemy in our lives have all been destroyed for good, until He has bound up our broken hearts, proclaimed liberty over our captivity and release from darkness for our imprisonment, until He has proclaimed the year of the Lord’s delight and the day of vengeance of our God, has comforted all our mourning, and provided for those of us who have grieved much….until He bestows upon us a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Is. 61:1-3)
He meant for us to
walk through and out,
not to dwell permanently in the dark valley of death.
And He will come for us…..
In this I rest my fragile hope today.