When Things Get Dark

April 11, 2023 by in Leadership Blog

My sister Joanne and I are alike in many ways, shopping, humour, faith, even our voices are difficult to tell apart on the phone, (which gave us hours of fun when we both worked in London and often called each others companies!) There is one area we couldn’t be more different. Joanne loves long distance walking. She has completed most long walks in the UK as well as some overseas such as the Inca trail – I however, jump in the car to go around the corner! 

Several years ago, when Jack was six, Joanne invited us on a walk up in the hills near their home that she promised wouldn’t disappoint! As she excitedly kitted up I reluctantly put on my old trainers and found little Jack a raincoat just in case. We drove to our starting point, parked the car and began our ascent. She wasn’t wrong, it was a beautiful sunny autumn day, Jack and Stephane, his cousin, were exploring and the views were stunning. I breathed in the warm fragrant breeze and thought, “I should walk more!” 

Sisters can really chat and as we clocked up a few miles Joanne and I meandered our way through every subject under the sun. We didn’t realise the temperature and light were dropping as afternoon turned to early evening. Joanne is an experience walker but had wrongly navigated us out of our circular route. We were in fact, lost. With no phone signal, Joanne calculated the straightest route back using land marks and off we went. We needed to cover at least 3 miles back to the car and with every step it got darker and chillier. All conversation stopped as we focussed on our feet getting us home to warmth and safety.

For me the lowest point was when we came to the edge of a forest area. I looked into the darkness and turned to Joanne, “Are you sure there’s no other way?” She assured me this was the quickest route to the car park before the gates close. I reluctantly complied and in we went. Two women, with two young boys, armed only with the intermittent light from a phone to conserve battery. As we navigated the uneven narrow gaps between the tall trees the sounds of the forest area were taking me back to every horror film I’d ever seen in my teens! I remember little Jacks big eyes as he instinctively put his hand in mine. I was determined not to let him know I was scared and began to sing songs that we both knew. At times I’d squeeze his hand three times – it was our way of saying “I love you” without words. He would reply with three squeezes to my hand. I’d like to say things got lighter, but it took a while before we caught sight of distant car park lights flickering on the horizon.

I’ve never enjoyed a hot chocolate more than the one that night. It was all the sweeter after our hillside adventure. 

Lately I’ve been looking again at Psalm 23. There are so many layers to the word of God and at 55 I am still only scratching the surface. Like our walk…this psalm starts in warm fields with the sun on our faces and still waters restoring our souls – yet things turn cold and dark before the end of the journey. 

In verse 4 it says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” So what do we do when things get dark? Here are four lessons I’m learning from the valley.

  1. The valley is on the path of righteousness. The valley is cold, dark and uncomfortable, but it’s Gods route through. My story would have just been a walk, not an adventure without the journey back. Dark valleys are part of the journey. Gods paths of righteousness take us through them. They are part of his good pleasing and perfect will, his ordinance, his blessing. It doesn’t always feel that way and our instinct is to say, Isn’t there another way? And God kindly whispers in our ears, “Trust me, this is the best way if we want to reach our destination on time”.
  2. We have an audience of One. There’s not a crowd in the valley. We may be undetectable, with no signal to or from the world outside. We can feel isolated and alone. And there it is again, the whisper of our Lord in our ears as he leans in and says, “You are not alone, I am with you” We feel the three short squeezes to our hand as he waits for our reply. 
  3. We discover new things about our shepherd. The valley casts shadows over our safety and we sense the danger. Yet as we squint in the darkness we realise our gentle natured guide who has lay down with us in the sunny fields, paddled with us in the cooling streams, and shared the views on the mountain tops – is now dressed like a Ninja and armed with a long sharp rod. He breaks into some combat moves… “Wow you’ve got skills!” – “Yes I do” he replies and with a wink he says, ”Don’t worry, I’ve got this” He is our ultimate security guard. He has the place covered. Armed, skilled and ready to fight anyone or anything that tries to attack.
  4. We are held in place. There is a temptation to leg it as quick as we can, to run in all directions, waving our hands in the air and screaming like a banshee or to run back to where it was warm and comfortable. But we discover we are held in place, in step and on track in the cradle of the Shepherd’s staff. As our knees go weak, it goes around us like a loving arm and pulls us in close. “Lean on me, I’ll take the weight, be at rest, take your time, I’ve got you”

There is a reason the feast comes after the valley. You can only feast in front of your enemies when you are certain they can’t touch you. Only by going through the valley do we learn this.  We feast because we’ve won, our enemies watch on, powerless because they know it. When David sang, “surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, he had the valley in view. 

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭23‬:‭5‬-‭6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

There is more than a hot chocolate waiting for you at the end of Gods valley. Keep going. Keep watching. Keep listening. Then enjoy x x

Ps Ally Jarvis

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