Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing devotions pulled from my book Living in the Shadow of Death: Learning to Thrive through Tragedy and Uncertainty. If you want to learn more about this book, scroll down or click here.
It seemed natural to begin the book that led to this devotional with the verse that pushed me to write it in the first place: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Most of you know that phrase doesn’t stand alone but is the rest better?
I know that we hear Psalm 23 in times of sorrow, but have you ever considered its words? Can we find comfort there?
A Closer Look at Psalm 23
If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end. ~CS Lewis, British writer and lay theologian
It seemed natural to begin the book that led to this devotional with the verse that pushed me to write it in the first place: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Most of you know that phrase doesn’t stand alone but is the rest better? I know that we hear Psalm 23 in times of sorrow, but have you ever considered its words?
The Lord is my Shepherd. Is there a more comforting thought? Well, except when the Shepherd knows something unpleasant is best.
I shall not want. Again, great comfort comes from these words up to the moment we learn that our wants do not always line up with our needs.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. Did you skip to the part of the green pasture? We completely ignore the He maketh me.
He leadeth me beside the still waters. This sounds wonderful, as long as I don’t see mosquitoes. But, God beckons us without saying how smooth or bug-free the terrain is.
He restoreth my soul. My attention quickly catches on restoreth. Can’t we just skip the part where my soul needs repair?
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. And the word leadeth makes another appearance. I’m thankful that God leads “in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:24). But again, we’re not told what the road looks like.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Here’s where I got stuck. Even in those moments I knew God was there, I felt the oppressive hand of death hovering nearby.
Why do we offer this psalm for comfort? Because of the rest.
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
A Piece of Me
Your story probably looks different from mine. The shadow of death takes on the form that renders each of us ineffective. It’s often a mere facade, but it works for our enemy’s purposes.
I was born into an active duty US Air Force family, three the first time we moved across the country from Virginia to Alaska. Then Dad retired when I was five and entered seminary. Another cross-country move. We moved again when I was eight. And twelve. And fourteen. Not as often as many military families, but quite a lot for civilians in the 1980s.
I still don’t mind moving. But for most of my life, I allowed my friendships to remain surface level. No one got to know me because I assumed we wouldn’t be there long enough for it to matter. And I was right—at least about the part of not being there long. As I continued to discount the depth of my friendships, I began to negate my own value. After all, they’d gotten along without me before I’d arrived and would do so again after I left. What did it matter if they didn’t know who I wanted to be when I grew up?
Dad had another chance to move when I was sixteen, but he turned it down, determined to remain in one state long enough for me to graduate high school. When I learned that we were staying, a piece of me relaxed. For the first time, I allowed myself to go deeper with three friends.
We graduated and moved on to college, only one of us leaving town for the experience. Her absence hit me hard, but I squelched it. Boys took on a bigger part of our lives, and one of my friends got married. Another loss, more squelching. The distancing habit was growing in my heart again.
No Comfort: Physical, Mental, or Emotional
I married, we had our first baby, my husband enlisted in the Air Force, and the days of moving started all over again. Anticipating the grief I would encounter whenever I or a friend moved, I slipped back into surface relationships.
This time, though, I couldn’t sustain the isolation. I fell apart just a few years into my unhealthy pattern. I was a stay-at-home mom of a four-year-old, a one-year-old, and was pregnant. We had an energetic puppy, our finances were stretched to the breaking point, I was starting to homeschool, my husband’s work schedule kept him away from us far more than he was with us, and we were new in town. Again.
Then my husband began spiraling into health problems. One diagnosis followed another, some with causes but many without. Multiple appointments with Radiology, Mental Health, Pulmonology, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Chiropractor, Physical Medicine, Endocrinology, Urology, Neurology, and Pain Management.
Perhaps the most difficult part isn’t the physical pain. It is the mental and emotional toll of unnamed and unresolved issues. Imagine being sick enough to take time off of work to go to multiple doctor appointments in multiple locations, to submit to a variety of tests of varying degrees of pain and humiliation, and then be told that the results showed everything is normal. Imagine living with constant pain, decreasing strength, and growing fatigue, only to be told nothing is wrong with you.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
How does a man live with a growing incapacity that doctors cannot explain? And, how does a family live with this man? At one point, he was taking more than twenty prescription pills every day. I don’t know how he functioned. It was difficult for me to understand his journey, even though I sat, watching him deteriorate.
I wondered if my husband would live to see his children graduate high school? Get married? Meet his grandchildren? Some days I doubted it. Every day, instead of comfort I lived with fear, uncertainty, doubt, and questions that no one had answers to. What would life look like in the coming days?
More on that, next week.
This is an excerpt from my book Living in the Shadow of Death. I’ll be sharing more in the weeks ahead, or you can purchase the book on Amazon (other retailers coming soon!).
Does God have a purpose for the turmoil or tragedy you are experiencing? Does a good God allow loss and send pain? How can that lurking feeling of dread for tomorrow be part of abundant life with Christ?
Grief hits us unexpectedly. A job loss, a failed relationship, a health crisis, an unexpected move, a rebellious teen, and other difficult circumstances force themselves upon us, demanding our attention. Fear, insecurity, and loneliness intimidate us into quiet submission and attempt to dictate our choices.
But what if we could shove them out our front door?
With loving concern and unyielding devotion for those facing a loss they never imagined, Carrie opens up her heart to reveal the biblical truths she’s learned through the heart-wrenching turbulence in her own life. She answers questions many Christians struggle with but dare not admit:
- Is God really good?
- Does the presence of pain and loss cancel out the abundant life promised to us?
- How can we follow God when life seems to only bring heartache?
- Is He even trustworthy?
If these are your questions, take heart! Within these pages, Carrie shares some of her very unchristian-like doubts and how she developed an intense faith and abiding trust even while Living in the Shadow of Death.
If you want to dig deeper into this book, you can also buy the journal featuring quotes from the book (links of the Book Page). Also, on the Freebies Page you’ll find a small group study guide and a leader’s guide!