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Pilgrim's Guides


  The Valley of the Shadow
Part one





Patterns of Grief
Embarking on the Journey
The Disorientation Loss Brings
The Divine Anaesthetic
Searching and Pining
Sadness and Sorrow
Breaking Grief's Isolation
Living Under the Shadow of His Wings
Beyond the Sequence of Losses

  Save me, O God, for the floodwaters are up to my neck.
Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire;
I cant find a foothold to stand on. I
I am in deep water and the floods overwhelm me.
I am exhausted from crying for help . . .
My eyes are swollen with weeping,
waiting for my God to help me.
Psalm 69:1-3
MORE AND MORE I am meeting people whose world has fallen apart. Loved ones leave or die, marriages unravel, friendships tear apart, and even seemingly vibrant ministries lose their cutting edge, and people find themselves as shocked and dismayed as David was as he wrestled with many pressures and losses.

Events that cause us to experience the valley of the shadow of grief can strike any of us unexpectedly at any time. One moment King David was sitting securely on his throne overseeing his far-flung empire. The next he was on the run for life in a barren wilderness.

When we go through times of extreme mental anguish, we will find ourselves gravitating towards the Psalms of David, for they blend the heart cry of our human pain with a profound longing to see God move on our behalf. It is not so much our faith as the the Lord’s faithfulness that supports us through the often long-drawn out process during which we struggle to accept what has happened, and to adjust to the changes that are now called for.
Fully aware of the effect His death would have on those He left behind, the Lord Jesus prophesied to His disciples,

  I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.
You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy . . .
Now is the time of your grief,
but I will see you again and you will rejoice,
and no one will take away your joy.
John 16:20, 22

In Psalm 84, the poet pictures a group of pilgrims wending their way to Jerusalem through the Valley of Baca – a phrase variously translated as “a dry valley,” or “the valley of weeping.” Most explorers find their strength diminishing in pro-portion to the length of their journey and the ruggedness of the terrain they are passing through, but the psalmist promises here a very different outcome, that we will go from strength to strength (Psalm 84:7). God anticipates the hardest times we must pass through, and sends special help and comfort to see us through.

When the psalmist speaks of the autumn rains gathering in pools, the image is of our tears mingling with the Lord’s comfort to provide a balm that can transform even savage wildernesses into a place of renewed hope. It is only unresolved grief, or grief that has developed complications, which leaves people brittle and embittered, weighed down by ancient scars that remain achingly close to the surface, crushing all flicker of hope.

By the grace of God, it is entirely possible that we will emerge from such times with renewed hope and fresh goals, but there may be a considerable journey to experience first. If even swallows and sparrows make their dwelling close to the altar of the Lord, then how much more welcome are we? We cry out with David, Be to me a protecting rock of safety, where I am always welcome. (Psalm 71:3).

As surely as the young man David emerged beyond his griefs and losses as a man of God, so we can also see that many of the world’s most caring ministers, and our most brilliant artists, musicians and scientists, have only emerged in their full anointing and creativity on the far side of profound loss.

Far from permitting their suffering to crush them, these people have found ways to “cooperate” with God’s mysterious purposes through the grief process, using their loss to strengthen their spirits.

If I may dare to speak of such a thing, their ongoing surrender to God has permitted suffering to accomplish in them its highest redemptive work. We come away from spending time with such people feeling cleansed and refreshed.

In this opening section, therefore, we are going to examine some of the most common reactions people experience when loss strikes and grief comes their way.

Reflect and Pray
Lord, You have been my dwelling place,
ever since I put my trust in You.
As I embark on this journey of grief,
thank You that You know all about grief in all its forms.
You desire nothing but my good,
and will be with me every step of the way.
Even though this path is leading me
far from familiar landmarks,
You are taking me towards the future
that You have already prepared.


Patterns of Grief
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like . . . read more.

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