Friday, October 15, 2010

Valley of the Shadow

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.
—Psalm 23:4

I'm actually not really afraid of death. I expect Heaven to be much nicer than Earth, so to me death seems like heading off on an extended vacation. Besides, I am a young, healthy person, so death isn't a very strong concern for me right now. Death doesn't seem so bad—life is harder.

Although I may not be afraid of death, I am still afraid of a great many things.
  • I am afraid of failing. I don't want to let the people I love down. I don't want to let God down. I don't want to let my employer down. As more and more tasks and responsibilities pile on top of me, I become more and more worried that I won't be able to successfully do everything that's being asked of me. What if something falls through the cracks? What if I don't meet a deadline? What if I'm not there when someone needs me? What if I don't do a good enough job? What if my carefully-laid plans fail? What if—despite all my talents and gifts—I fail to do what God put me on this Earth to do? 
  • I am afraid of losing myself. It's very common for people to respond to pressure by making modifications in their lives. But how many modifications can I really make before I lose myself? At what point have I sacrificed too much of my own personality, my hopes, my dreams? How can I serve others and follow God without losing the self He created me to be along the way? 
  • I am afraid of being misled. I read scripture and pray and talk to wise people, but sometimes I still worry that I can't always tell the difference between God's inspiration and my own errant thoughts. What if I think God wants me to go a certain direction or do a certain thing, but it turns out that God had nothing to do with it and it was my own idea all along? If endeavors don't work out right away, how do I know if God wants me to keep at them or give them up? Persevere or redirect? When I get pessimistic feelings about something, is that God trying to redirect me or Satan trying to lead me astray, or is it simply my own weak human nature? How do I tell the difference?
  • I am afraid of being alone. What if I can't really count on the people I love? What if the people I depend on walk out of my life? After all, death could strike at any moment, or the people I prioritize in my life could choose not to prioritize me. Will I have help along my journey? I have friends, but will I have spiritual companions? Will I have wise mentors? Will I have trusted Christian friends who can help me discern and give me sound Spirit-guided advice when I feel lost? Am I really out here doing God's work on my own, or can I find ways to join forces with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? How do I find the right people to team up with?
Each of these fears is like a shadow that pollutes my life and saps energy from me. Each one can be awakened by challenging circumstances or bad days.

Lately, there have been a lot of challenging circumstances and bad days in my life, so there have been a lot of shadows. I have spent the past summer in the valley of the shadow, and it hasn't been a fun time. I have survived the past months through dogged determination and reliance on the people closest to me. It hasn't been pretty. I've cried floods of tears, ranted and raved and any sympathetic person willing to listen, lost my energy and discarded once-loved activities (this blog included), adopted bad habits, and composed desperate logical arguments to convince myself to get out of bed every morning. But with the help of God and the people who loved me, I'm coming back out of the valley. There is life ahead of me, and I am moving toward it as quickly as I can.

I have to deal with these shadowy fears that plague me with the help of God. I need to recognize each of them for what they are—tricks of the Deceiver—and deny them power over my life. The fact is that sometimes I will fail. But God will ensure that my work for Him overcomes my failures, and he will forgive me for my shortcomings. Sometimes I may lose myself, but God will renew my spirit within me, and I will come back to myself as surely as I am coming out of my own personal valley right now. Sometimes I will be misled, despite my best efforts. Satan's lies are convincing, but God's Word is stronger, and He won't let me wander too far. God is watching out for me, and if I continue to seek His will, He will make sure I end up where I'm supposed to be. I may even have to go it alone from time to time, but God will always be with me, so I will never truly be alone. God is moving the hearts of many people around me, and He is constantly sending people into my path through both important relationships and fleeting interactions to convey His love and His guidance to me.

Fear is real to us humans, I won't deny that. But there is nothing I fear that God can't deal with. I know that I will have to walk through the valley of the shadow sometimes, and I will have to be exposed to my fears. It won't be fun, but I will always, always make it through to the other side because God will be there with me. His rod and His staff will take care of my personal demons sooner or later. In the meantime, it's hard. It really is. But the outcome—salvation, redemption, and deliverance—is guaranteed.

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