My mind races and I have the undeniable urge to run out of the room. I grip the arms of my chair to make sure that I don’t. I am about to share a painful valley experience with a group of near strangers who are all staring at me expectantly. I have willingly agreed to do this but now it seems like a careless, almost reckless thing to do. Something akin to how I might feel if I went grocery shopping naked. Why would I choose to look back at such a painful time in my life and then willingly share it with others? Was I crazy? It seems so counter intuitive to everything I have been taught by my parents, by the church and by well-meaning friends. As a society, it seems we are encouraged to put the past behind us and press onward and upward. “What’s done is done” and “don’t cry over spilt milk” are two refrains I’ve heard over and over again. Even Paul in his book to the Philippians tells us to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead pressing on to the prize that is in Christ. Yet, my Christian walk has become anything but joyful and hope filled. Instead, I feel weary, run down and just getting by with a low grade numbness invading the crevices of my soul. Could it actually be possible that Jesus is asking us to enter some of the more painful areas of our lives that we would much rather keep sealed off never to be opened again? What if maybe, just maybe, Jesus is really behind us too, wooing and calling us to our valleys so we can find His redemption from the pain, patterns and debris of our past that potentially keep us from experiencing the abundant life we are promised as believers?
I had recently finished Dan Allender’s book, To Be Told, and it resonated deeply. He states, “Our own story is the thing that most influences and shapes our outlook, our tendencies, our choices and our decisions. It is the force that orients us toward the future, and yet we don’t give it a second thought, much less careful examination. It’s time we listen to our own story.”
I guess it is my time.
My voice falters as I begin, but slowly I gain momentum and start to recall specific details of my valley; like the Bee Gee song that was playing on the radio and how the hot sting of the August sun felt on my adolescent skin. We had been instructed by our leader not to narrate our stories as if bystanders casually observing the action from a safe distance, but instead to get back down in the dirt of the story. So I was consciously using my senses to kick up the dust as I walk back through it. I continue on and evoke the images of the characters involved and the feeling of my young heart beating so fast that I could hear it reverberating in my ears. I keep sharing this way and as I do my jaw clenches and I feel a knot in the pit of my stomach just as I did all those years ago. The flush of shame rises in my body as I recount the intense feelings of powerlessness and betrayal that marked me in this particular valley. Before I know it, I am once again walking in the valley of the shadow of death and it feels like hell. Waves of grief come as I experience the pain and agony of this particular time in my life afresh. I somehow finish but the sorrow is deep and the tears continue to flow. After what seems like eternity, I catch my breath and gather the courage to look up, cautiously making eye contact with my fellow story sojourners who have just witnessed my intense valley walk. Their faces are brimming with tears. Many of them seem to be as shaken as I am.
There is a deafening silence and then something remarkable happens. They begin speaking in to my sad and grief filled soul with curiosity, kindness and compassion. They start making holy observations and pointing out beautiful truths I had never had eyes to see before. They ask insightful questions and we explore my story more in depth and then, through shared eyes, God starts to reveal himself to me; to us. This stunning care towards me and my story starts to shake loose a new way of seeing and an unbelievable freedom is being born in its wake. Through this process, I break strong-holds that my past had on me which I didn’t even know existed. Jesus begins sewing a torn piece of me back up again.
I feel a shiver of joy rush through me and a lightness of being that I still can’t quite explain.
Since that first time re-walking a valley experience, I have pondered, written and shared other stories from my past and have cried many tears in the process. Each time, I am newly amazed at the transformation that happens when I re-enter my stories in this way. It is in and through the valley where I have found freedom from some deep seeded wounds and vows which were keeping me from experiencing Christ’s full redeeming love.
Is it time for you to enter a valley and kick up some dust of your own? It is hard, but Christ will meet you there. He longs to hold you as you weep and patiently waits for you to join Him in re-narrating the painful parts of your story with His eyes and His healing insights.
So come, spend a little time in your valleys-- the beautiful majestic mountains are just on the other side. Billy Graham says, "Mountaintops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valleys."
Questions for Reflection:
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever." Psalm 23:4-6, New Living Translation
Dear Heavenly Father, I praise you and thank you for my past, present and future. Help me listen for your perspective in the whole of my story, even in the painful valleys. May I continue to co-author my story with you and through you for your glory. Help me see my story with fresh, eternal eyes and to thank you for the mountains as well as for each and every valley.
To Be Told, by Dan Allender