Vale of Tears

The Valley of the Shadow

 

Trail-Blazer and Lord of Hope,
by the rising of your Son
You have removed for all time
the veil between Your world and ours.

 

Friend and Comforter,
Who alone knows every pain
that torments the human soul,
by the power of Your Holy Spirit,
guide us through this Vale of Tears
until we are filled with the fullness of Your presence
in Jesus’ love,
Amen.

The Valley of the Shadow

Introduction

C.S. Lewis once wrote that he was “pregnant with book.” Books have a habit of changing shape as they develop. The first draft of Vale of Tears was a straightforward “manual” to accompany a workshop on grief. The volume served its purpose, but I sensed that the Lord was looking for something more prayerful and more creative – something that would both identify the inner workings of grief and reveal more of God’s own heart.
I started again from scratch, setting out this time to write something that would be both actually accurate but also spiritually inspiring. Even though it covers most of the issues
often associated with loss and grief, Vale of Tears is much more than a “textbook:” it is also a call to draw closer to God’s heart.
Whatever else changes in society, the human heart remains the same. I asked for this book to be published with a hard cover in order to preserve its shelf life. My prayer is that it will be as relevant for you if loss comes your way in ten or twenty years time as it will hopefully prove to be concerning griefs that happened long ago – and that you will be equipped to cope with it for having taken the time to explore the subject now.
Together we will unmask the many faces of grief, and examine strategies that will help us to work our way through those times when it feels as though the bottom has fallen out of our world. As we explore the underlying causes of sorrow, we will find ourselves gaining greater confidence to befriend, pastor and counsel those who are walking their own grief journey, and to pour balm into bruised and hurting hearts.
Woven into the text are numerous references to the chequered experiences of Israel’s shepherd king – for who better than David to show us how to handle the numerous griefs that punctuate life’s pilgrimage?

The extensive Contents and Index pages will help you to track down specific issues you may wish to follow up. The quotes I have included from writers and counsellors wellversed in the grief process are worth savouring too, and will bring much wisdom.
Throughout the book you are sure to find yourself customising the material according to whether you are primarily grieving yourself, or reaching out to support someone else.
To bind these viewpoints together, and to make the reading of this book a truly spiritual experience, may I encourage you to pause at the end of each section and make good use of the prayers of reflection?
It is my prayer that the Lord Jesus, who is intimately acquainted with grief in all its forms (Isaiah 53:3), will refresh your spirit and lift grief and trauma from your heart as you read these pages. May He guide you step by step through whatever valley you may be passing through, and restore you to a place of trust in the love that flows from His heart.

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 his 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 proportion 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.