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the goodness of the valley

Often when I am looking at my life, I speak in metaphors through the terms of mountains and valleys. The mountaintop times are great memories, intimacy with God, answered prayers and seeing God do something in my life. However, more often than not, I feel like I am in a valley. The valley is typically filled with depression, sorrow, shame, anxieties, and a sense of distance from God.

Recently, I have been in a valley and am asking myself, “When will my next mountain be?” or more candidly, “Will I ever be on a spiritual mountaintop again?”

God shook my understanding of spiritual mountains and valleys. I had always considered mountains good and valleys bad. When I began thinking literally about mountains and valleys, I was reminded of hikes I have taken that displayed the beauty of both mountains and valleys.

When I reflect on hiking, I am reminded of the increased danger on the mountaintops—the greater exposure to the weather, lightning strikes, steeper terrain, and less oxygen.

Last year, someone fell off the peak I was at and had to be life-flighted to the hospital. In the horrific accident, there is a poignant takeaway: there is a real danger on the mountaintop. This person was having the time of their life reaching the apex of the mountain, and in the next moment they were clinging on to life as their broken body laid among the boulders.

When I am on a peak spiritually, I can often develop this sense of pseudo-confidence and self-dependency. I lose sight of my constant need for God and his guidance. Consequently, like the one who fell off the mountain, I also fall and develop a spirit of pride. During the good times, I put God on the shelf and trek on in my strength. Naturally, I end up back in the valley, wounded, and spiritually drained.

Yet, there is safety in a valley. Trees protect from harsh winds and provide shade from the beating sun. The path is more clear and flatter because more people have walked it. Isn’t this true of the human experience? We all spend more time in the valley than on the mountaintop.

I want to change how I see a valley.

Being in a valley is tough; however, a spiritual valley will no longer be synonymous with bad. A valley means I am with the majority of the people around me – a community of valley-walkers trying to understand why the sinful world is the way it is. A valley means I am greater protected by my heavenly Father. Valleys are beautiful.

When or if I reach another mountaintop, I now understand that it will not last. Every mountain is in between valleys. When I am at a higher vantage point, I can see where God has brought me more clearly, and I will see another valley lies ahead, and it will not cripple me in fear. I will know it is coming. When I descend into the next valley, I will see the same goodness of our God. Jesus is Lord in the mountain and the valley.

If you are perpetually in a valley, rejoice that you are held in the hand of God, safe, loved, and you are not alone. God does not love you or think of you less in the valley. Instead, he lifts the lowly and provides for those in need.

The Christian life is not trying to chase the next mountaintop spiritual moment. It is filled with both mountains and valleys. Through it all, we continue to trust in Jesus and the gracious lessons that can be learned no matter where we are positioned.

Let Psalm 23 be a needed reminder of the goodness of the valley and that Christ is our Good Sheperd.

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,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23

questions to consider

  • What emotions and situations are you currently feeling and living in? Are you on the mountaintop or in the valley?
  • What is God teaching you if you are currently in the valley?
  • How can being on a spiritual mountain be more dangerous than not?