Written by Gwen Mlondobozi
In preschool, over 20 years ago, I learned Psalm 23 off by heart. I carried it with me, but there are times it has carried me, as it does today. Life being what it is, I find myself facing difficult days, and they do not go away merely because I do not want them to be here. So I walk; putting one foot in front of another and facing each new day. Today I was reminded of these words.
Psalm 23:4a (ESV)
‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’
Tough times do not make an announcement that they will be arriving soon, they merely fall upon us and we navigate our way through them. It’s like walking in a tunnel - It is dark, cold, damp, and there is poor visibility. Yet, there is a faint light ahead so you keep walking. Whilst in the tunnel you feel uncertain, paranoid, and even scared, you keep walking. The lion and bear that David killed in the field as a shepherd were a point of reference when he had to face Goliath.
My brother once said this to me, 'I love the beauty that we find in the pain we have been through'. These words have inspired me to think differently about the bitter days. There is always a lesson learnt in the valley, one that helps me overcome a challenge in the future. In the valley, I can choose to let the experience make me stronger even though it doesn't feel nice. The valley experience does however come with hope, strength, resilience, and faith, but you can choose to take it or not. We always have a choice.
The tough walks are also a reflection of the image that we bare; Jesus Christ. He endured the cross. He was tortured and then carried the cross that he would later be hung on. This pain and suffering he endured is something we celebrate today because it is the cornerstone of our faith, it’s the reason why we believe and why we are free. That is difficult to swallow and it doesn’t make the walk through the valley any easier, but, it gives it purpose; it is not for nothing.
Your pain and suffering is not for nothing. The gifts and lessons may not be for you, but for those who have the honour of watching you walk through your valley. So take courage, dear friend, and be brave. Perhaps you walk so that someone else may know that it can be done. Carry your cross with pride, pull it, drag it, kick and scream, but don’t, don’t give up. In the valley we never know who is watching, maybe we inspire those walking ahead of us and behind us to not give up.
So take heart, young sheep, the rod and staff of the Shepherd hurts but doesn’t harm - hurt doesn’t last forever, harm does. He pulls us back from harm and keeps us going, an act of love we may not always understand. Tough times remind you of your humanity, that you are real, you go through real challenges, face real pain, and experience real losses. You are real.
I am so privileged to be surrounded by a great support system - my friends and family. It makes walking through a valley a little less scary and when the walls feel like they are caving in, I a get a reminder to breathe, relax, and keep walking. Nothing but God lasts forever. The sun rises and sets, seasons come and go, and so does pain and suffering.
Do you feel as if you are walking through a valley alone?
You are not alone - God is with you.
I pray that you may feel him deeply, truly.
Psalm 23 (ESV)
'The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads 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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
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