Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me. Psalm 23:4
It is possible for us, as for sheep, to have got into our valley imperceptibly, by wandering on without listening for orders, or more precipitately by running heedlessly after other (or another) wayward sheep. It is also possible for a completely unforeseeable valley experience to have me taken aback or even resentful and embittered. This sort of reaction can indicate that it was about time that my complacency, and perhaps my self-righteousness, were brought up short. The sides of a dark valley are so steep and awesome that a lost sheep must feel woefully small and intimidated there. I, too, can only cry out in a new and painful awareness of my own inadequacies, at last shown up in the face of such difficulty, danger and darkness. My answers are no longer slick, my confidence no longer in myself. I recall the Lord's 'why?' in his valley with deeper insight and a warmer response (Mt 27:46). I now see the answer to his question in the light of the resurrection: he sees now the answer to mine. As then, so now, he loves me. His presence will never fail. His power will open up the way and bring me out into the clear again. I cannot fly out of this valley, nor run away from it, but I will walk through it, step by step, with his help. In this dark, strange, confined and fearful place I shall get to know the Shepherd more personally than I have ever known him before. 'He' becomes 'Thou'. 'He leads' -- but in the valley 'Thou art with me'.
Some years ago, an African nurse invited me to her home in a tall apartment building. She met me at the entrance to the liftshaft, carrying her little boy, just a few months old, and as we got into the lift apologised that the light bulb had failed. It was a noisy lift, and conversation stopped as we went up in total darkness, surrounded by ominous clangs and clashes. No sound came from the baby, but as we reached the top and the door opened, there he was, eyes wide with apprehension but now turning eagerly to the light, his arms still wrapped tightly around his mother's neck. She saw my glance and said in a voice full of loving satisfaction, 'Ah, he fears the dark, so he holds on to me'. He was too little to know Psalm 23, but he had just experienced the message of its fourth verse!
In time, I shall be able to thank my Shepherd for all that he came to mean to me in the valley, but until then the moment by moment task is to reach out for his presence and trust to his love.
When through the deep waters He calls thee to go,
The rivers of grief shall not thee overflow;
For He will be with thee in trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
Further reading: 2 Cor 4:8-18. Rom 8:25-39.