The bright light of a noon day sun can make most any landscape feel alive with hope. Colors are vivid. Shadows have fled. The valleys and the mountain ranges and the forests and the plains are all dancing from different rays of brilliant light that wash over their contours. But take that same landscape and remove the greater light for the lesser, and ones outlook on the scene completely changes. For the same forest that looked full of wonder and possibility as the sun peaked through its canopies, is the same forest that takes on a haunting dread as night swallows the heavens and strange shadows creep in as hazy moonlight falls.
And oh, how strangely the light falls in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
As you carry your little lamp through the narrow vale, the light casts looming shadows every which direction. Timidly at times, you take your next step for fear of what you will find ahead of you. You grip the handle of your little lantern holding on to the only hope you have and all the while you keep telling yourself to "have faith" and to "trust in God" but still your heart is beating within your chest. All of the senses that you enjoyed in the light are now in a fight or flight mode in the Valley. The ground that once felt secure now feels unstable beneath your feet. The shadows that once fled are now suffocating your vision. The sounds that once brought comfort now set your teeth on edge. And sometimes, the sound that sets you on edge more than any other in this Valley, is the sound of silence.
Silence in the valley during the warmth of the day is a reprieve, a resting place for the busy soul. In it I find His presence settling in the hush of my heart and I am comforted in the stillness. But when I am situated in the dark of the Valley of the Shadow of Death - this nighttime of grief & continuation - the silence is distressing. For the believing heart, it can be quite confusing: what once brought you comfort is no longer embraced as a friend. Songs that once brought a smile, now take on a different meaning as a few lyrics hang in the air and break your heart. Scriptures that once soothed your soul now stir up questions instead. God seems both present and absent, both near and far. And it is in that place of juxtaposition where real faith begins.
I recently sat in that place of the juxtaposition of two incompatibles while talking to the Lord. He was present but He felt far away and as we spoke from my place of trusting in Him, I shared my doubts and asked my questions. Yes, I really trusted and yes, I really questioned; for in the Kingdom, these are not at opposition to one another, but actually are designed to weave together in the heart of a believer a faith that is unshakeable. From the moment I entered this Valley weeks ago, the Lord has been saying the same thing to me: "Keep asking these questions; I need you to ask these questions." That's pretty much all I've heard through this season - the Lord telling me, "Keep asking these questions." For one who is use to lengthy discourses with the Lord, this short sentence feels like silence. It feels like distance. So, this is exactly what I told Him that day of juxtaposition. With salty tears wetting my face, I explained to God how I felt like I couldn't see Him in these Shadows; how I felt like I couldn't hear Him in the deep night of the Valley. I essentially cried out, "I am holding on to the only Hope I have, God, and I feel it's not enough to light my path and point to you. All I have is questions but I need to hear your voice."
And then, like a shaft of soft light piercing through my darkness, I heard Him speak, "My voice is in the questions, Dear." And just like that, my heart was settled. With that one simple phrase, I realized that I had grown so use to how I heard Him in the Day, that I had not heeded how His voice sounded in the Night. I had picked up the lie along the path that faith looked the same day or night...that faith at best would always find the answers, would always receive the promise and at worst, would stand unwavering in the storm. But that's a manmade version of faith. When the Lord spoke to me that one powerful sentence, it made me realize that faith looks a lot like fear to the untrained eye. It's shaky. It's trembling. It's weeping. It's full of doubt. The only difference between fear & faith? You keep moving forward...even if you cannot see or feel or hear a thing.
What I thought was failure on my end to hear or cessation on His side from speech, was not failure at all - it was actually communion. You see, all he asked of me was exactly what I was doing: asking questions. And why did He ask me to do this? Because it is His voice ringing in them. Now that I know His voice is in the questions, I can embrace them as communion. The way God has prepared a table for me in this Valley isn't in the way I expected it to come. I thought it would be beside still waters and in green pastures, rolling in open fields of faith - but that was the last season. This season the table of communion is spread in the darkness of the Valley and therefore, my trust looks different because His light falls differently here. In the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I hear His voice, not in the joyful fellowship of resurrection, but in the wrestling questions of suffering, as His light shines - not in blazing glory - but in subtle sheens.
With this revelation, I can ease my grip on my little lamp as I take my next step into strange shadows. For now I know: communion & faith have run headlong into questions without answers and the union of the two is Divine. I don't have to fear Fear. I don't have to hate questions. I can breathe deep on this dark path and embrace these shadows knowing that, though the light falls strangely in the Valley of the Shadow, it's here where real faith begins.