Every life, no matter how brief or how long, arrives at the entrance of the valley of the shadow of death. We walk into that valley – and through that valley – and out of that valley – by faith. We do not walk in fear because we do not walk through the valley alone. Yes, we walk with the Shepherd but we also walk with those who love us most and best in this world.
Consider this: the valley of the shadow is a heavily traveled highway with two way traffic. When my beloved parent, child, spouse, sister, brother, or friend enters the valley of the shadow I walk with them into it. I bear witness to the One who created, loves, redeems, and holds all life in the very hollow of His hand.
The entirety of the valley is not dark and there is a radiant light toward which we move. Along the way, as we rest in green valleys and linger along still waters, we talk about the rest for the soul that draws near. I sing songs and read Scriptures and tell stories recalling all the goodness and mercies of the days of this life. I look forward with my beloved to eternity together in a house not built by hands being prepared for us by our carpenter King.
As I witness the body of my beloved wasting away, I declare the reality that inwardly we are being renewed day by day and that indeed, even now, the Lord is restoring our souls. We walk in paths of righteousness we did not cut ourselves and I bear witness to the One who walked this valley on one very dark Friday to make a way we could not make. All this, all this, all this, we do in Him, with Him and for His name’s sake.
As the end of the valley comes fully into view, I ask my beloved to save me a seat at the table prepared before us all. I anoint my beloved with prayers of thanksgiving and I bear witness to the reality of the resurrection hope we share in Jesus Christ. We imagine together what it will be like to see God face to face, to know Him as fully as we are even now fully known. What will it be like to dwell in the house of the Lord forever?
Forever…some hours and nights in the valley while I remain vigilantly awake seem as if they last forever. But the valley comes to an end. The journey into and through the valley of the shadow is not a leisurely stroll, it is a purposeful trek that often feels like climbing a mountain as the burden of my own grief grows in the lengthening shadows. Then when my beloved passes through the end of the valley and is gone from this world, forever seems to start again.
Two truths of Christian grief:
- We do not grieve as those who have no hope.
- And yet, we grieve.
I stand at the end of the valley of the shadow of death. My beloved is no longer here but neither am I alone.
I hear him ask, “How long will you look for the living among the dead? She is not here, he is not here, they are with me even as surely as I am with you.”
I grieve my aching loss even as I celebrate my beloved’s new reality. I know why God wanted them with Him and I can only imagine the joy of sharing the reality of paradise today.
But then I must turn and take the first step back through the valley of the shadow of death and into the life I must yet live. As difficult as walking into and through the valley with my beloved, this pivot, this first step, this journey out of the valley and back to life is no less real and no less difficult.
But 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 guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. And even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for He is with me. He guides and comforts me. He prepares a table before me, anoints my head with oil and fills my cup to overflowing. His goodness and mercy will follow me – out of the valley and back into all the days of my life – until it comes my time to walk again through the valley of the shadow when I too will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Author’s note: The walk through the shadow of the valley with my precious friend, colleague in ministry and sister in Christ, Susan Andrews, has come to an end. Yesterday she entered the house of the Lord where she will dwell forever. With her husband, Neil, her boys, Patrick, Nathan and Tyler, the family at New Hope church, and the thousands of those whose lives Susan impacted for Christ here in Franklin, Tennessee, I will now walk back out of the valley of the shadow. May the Lord grant that our witness to His goodness and mercy in Susan’s life will be as radiant and joyful as all the days we shared with her – until we share them anew in the house of the Lord, forevermore.
(Susan – save me a seat close to your’s. – Carmen)