Today I woke up with the 23rd Psalm in my mind. We all know the words. It’s a required part of the Christian experience.
As I thought through it though, I know that even if I can say the words, that’s not how I live. But it should be.
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil…” Yet, to be honest, mine would be though I walk around the outside of the valley and look down into it I fear all the things that might happen down there. The valley of the shadow of death? I mean there’s people that walk through that. But at the first sign of any possible threat to my existence, I let worry and fear take over. I’m not even to the valley. God hasn’t made me walk through it yet. He just takes me to the edge and then we back up because clearly y’all, I can’t handle it yet.
I’m not saying I want to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I like the CSB translation that says “even when I go through the darkest valley”. Y’all I’ve been there. I’ve seen that valley. When I think I’m through the darkest one, I find out there’s a darker one still. I’ve been there several times. When you’re at the end of everything you know to do. Out of control. Out of hope. Ya. I’ve been there…more than once. I was there 2 days ago. “Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger”. I fear all the danger. I give up. I let God know how angry I am to be here again, but then what? Then I’m out of words. I don’t know how to intercede on my own behalf. To pray for mercy. To pray for it to be ok. To know that even if…He’s still good.
“I fear no danger for you are with me. Your rod and your staff–they comfort me.” I know He’s with me but I don’t trust that He will save me from the things. And His rod and staff? They don’t comfort me. They scare me because I don’t know what He might do with them.
And I’m convicted that I need to stop living like that. Yes, bad things happen. Yes, sometimes when you pray and have faith and do all the things, the bottom does still drop out, the world tips and sways. And I know that because it did. The bottom dropped out of my world as a 5 year old and my life changed. And it was hard and scary and affects who I am.
But what about the rest? What about the 100 times the bottom didn’t drop out? What about the 100 times God’s safety net caught me? What about the times that we came to the edge of the valley, but then the path turned and we didn’t go through it? What about those times? Yes, God took me through the death of my daddy as a 5 year old, but we made it through. It was hard and it still hurts, but we survived. What else did He take me through? A cancer diagnosis for my mom, and yet she is still alive today. So many other things….God brought me through. He threw some tender mercies my way through all the things. Bad things happen, but I need to not be afraid of the valley because it’s a good place to learn and grow, for God to breathe life into these dry bones.
I need to fight harder against the hurts that have shaped me, against the inability to trust, against the difficulty with letting people close. Does it hurt when they leave? Oh friends it does. But it’s so amazing when they are there. I need to stop living for the end. I think I’ve said that before.
I told you this weekend my people held me while I cried, physically put their arms around me. If you don’t know me, I am not good with physical touch. I never have been. I feel awkward and weird. And it’s too close for me. I’ve let you in too far if you feel compelled to lay hands on me. I worry about lots of things: the last time you washed your hands, the last time I washed my hands, if I smell funny, if my hair is clean, etc. Normal people don’t worry about those things. They just let people touch them. But I’ve never been comforted by touch.
My mom reminded me on the phone last night of something I’d forgotten but it lets you know this isn’t a new issue. When I was younger, my mom went to a service where the preacher said you need x number of hugs a day to be healthy or something. Well, being as she was a single parent (and a math person), she divided the number of required hugs by 3 and assigned me and my 2 brothers to each give her 1/3 of her required hugs for the day. I HATED IT! In fact it made me kind of irritated that it was “required”. And it didn’t last long, probably because my required hugs were not given lovingly.
This weekend though, in the valley of darkness, when I was out of words and out of hope and afraid of all the things, my people held me. Did I worry about if my hair was gross when someone was stroking it? Ya, but not enough to not like it. Did I worry about whether or not I was clean or it was too close or any of that? No not really. Because there in the valley, in that moment of brokenness, my soul needed to just be held. My body needed to just be held. And it was safe. And it was comforting. And it made me feel loved. It gave me the ability to trust that everything would be ok.
Someone to come along with you, to volunteer to go into the valley and walk it with you when they don’t have to, that’s what doing life with others is. Surrounding you and holding you and interceding for you when you’re too wounded to do it yourself. Refusing to let the wounds of life end you. Inspiring you and giving you permission to dream big dreams, those are the beauties of my people.
Speaking life into them. Allowing them to speak life into me. Showing me how to truly be unbreakable, even when I’m broken. Modeling faith. These are my people. And this is my privilege.
Even if I walk through 100 valleys I’m gonna be ok. God has sent a mighty army in my people. He says he will fight for me. I need only be still. I’m learning to be still.