He Called Me to the Valley
My life in the past few (many) months has felt like a constant battlefield. Perhaps this is the life of the Christian, a brutal fight for joy and peace in all times. The greatest battle in a faith-filled life seems not to be the one against the things that oppose us from the outside, but the one against the emotions, doubts and fears that oppose us from the inside.
But before I address what feels like the war in my heart, I think it’s important to remember that I’m fighting from victory. All my life I’ve tended toward a poverty spirit and desperation mindset, something that is so common among God’s children when they find themselves in a dark season. In my own life, the poverty spirit appears first as an adoration filled cry of a child to her Father, asking Him to visit her because she feels alone and far off. Based in the truth that our hearts are designed for God’s presence, this cry isn’t sinful of itself. There’s so much beauty in a heart that cries out for God, broken, desperate, and needy for His presence. However, when I feel that my Father has not answered my cry, I assume an increasingly desperate posture. I ask, “What have I done wrong?” and “Why have you taken your presence from me?”. My mind confesses every possible error or misstep. And again, while there is beauty in desperation, there’s also forgetfulness. The moment I begin obsessing over my sin, neediness and insufficiency, I forget my adoption into the fold of God. It becomes an issue of my ability to right myself before God, when in fact “it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:21). The belief that I can somehow make myself clean enough for the feeling of God’s presence to return rejects my identity as his child. This poverty spirit is no more righteous than a Pharisee’s loud and pretentious prayer. A poverty spirit is a spirit that has forgotten who God is.
All that to say, what, then, are we to do when our souls are lost and lonely and our spirits feel faint? Is the painful season of quietness or dryness punishment from God? Does He send me through this because I have failed Him? No. I know the Father’s heart is good, and He doesn’t wreak havoc to punish us for not meeting expectations we’ve set for ourselves. Why, then, does he allow for the valleys of the soul? I think because we need to see the valley before we can truly thrive on the mountain top. The valley is where we recognize that the only dependable thing in this life is the goodness of God. It’s here where we learn the necessity of His presence but also the truth of His steadfastness despite our wavering emotions. And then, on the sweet day when He moves us from the valley and places us atop the mountain, we will be certain that no striving of our own brought us there. We owe it all to the hand of God.
I arrived in this valley after a series of obedient “yes” statements, where God asked me to lay down the things so tightly grasped in my hands. It was a series of conversations between my Father and I, questions of Where are we going? and Where have we been? With every desire laid down—the shiny college experience in New York City, an independent and self-sufficient lifestyle, the summer spent in Europe fulfilling lifelong dreams, and even one of the dearest relationships—the words were always Do you trust me enough to follow me? Do you know I have something better for you? You see, my Father knows my heart, He knows my only desire is to be where He is. The losses and unmet expectations of myself and my life were and are painful. I never expected following His word would lead to a season of feeling so lost in the wilderness and so doubtful of His presence. My only consolation is that I know I followed Him here, and therefore, I am right where I should be.
The one walking through the valley—though susceptible to despair, doubt and confusion—is not there for punishment or to receive the scorn due them. Though I feel winded from the painful blows of shattered expectations, hiding hope and scarcity of joy, He brought me here to prepare me for the increased measure of grace He is about to pour out. I am not forsaken, and I am not defeated. The valley is my victory because it is where He has called me.
“He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away his hand; and if only the will to walk is really there he is pleased even with their stumbles […] our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.