I have a tell for when I am deep in thought with something that is weighing me down. I sigh. I probably have always done it but a little over a year ago my husband started asking me what was wrong out of the blue, or so I thought. He finally let me in on his secret – I was sighing… often. Over the last fourteen months I have walked through my dad passing away unexpectedly, placing my mom in a nursing home, not being able to see my mom in person for almost a year due to COVID, and eventually watching her go through a week of hospice care after a stroke which left her unable to swallow. My mom and dad both saw Jesus in 2020. Yep, I was sighing …a lot. To be honest I still am. I was walking through the valley of the shadow of death found in Plasm 23. Not my own death, but I walked in that shadow, in that valley, with both of my parents.
We all have times where we are walking through it. It takes us about 3 seconds on social media or a text for a prayer request from a friend to realize that the valley of death is not always physical death. It is walking through the hurt of adultery, the fear of a job loss, the helplessness of watching a child walk down a destructive path, the sadness of loneliness, losing a loved one, or … (insert your valley here.) For me, my valley I walked through was a literal 36 hours in the shadow of death with my dad and in that same shadow for a week with my mom. This experience had me look at the 23rd Psalm differently. No matter who we are, we will have a shadow in a crappy valley to navigate at some point. We will end up walking through it.
Psalm 23: 4 says, “Yea, 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.
In the time of the greatest darkness of that shadow I knew God was with me. I still hurt, I still had to be brave, and I still had to make the journey, but I wasn’t alone. Whatever we walk through, it is never by ourselves. We may not feel it, but we see through scripture it is true. You see, shadows stop us from seeing the totality of our surroundings. Just because we don’t see or feel something doesn’t mean it isn’t there. My favorite of all of the C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia books is The Horse and The Boy. The premise of the book is there is a boy who had had a tough life with trial after trial. He eventually meets Aslan (the lion who represents Christ) who had been following him in the shadows. He asked Aslan why he just now showed up and where was he when all of the terrible life circumstances were happening to him? He went through each trial or hurt one by one and asked Aslan “Where were you when ________?” And with each one he listed Aslan replied, “I was there.” The same is true for us. No matter where we go or what we endure we are never alone.
Not only are we never alone, but we are comforted. The word for comfort in the original text is nacham. It means to console, extend compassion, and (get this) sighing with one who is grieving. When my husband heard my inadvertent sighing, he heard my grief. The thought of the Lord sitting beside me and sighing with me created a picture for me to hold tightly. It is what makes me remember a shadow is not permanent as neither is our time in the valley. We are not spared from walking through it, but we will never have to do it alone.