“Blessed are those whose strength is in you…as they go through the Valley of Baca [weeping], they make it a place of springs…they go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.” Ps 84:5-7
It comes as no surprise to any of you that our world is suffering. Entire communities of people are stirring and frustrated under injustice and oppression. Living in the Dallas/Fort Worth area gives me a tiny glimpse of the immense loss felt by families nationwide.
In closer proximity, friends and family are dealing with terminal illnesses, depression, failing marriages, dying children. To walk through the Valley of Weeping is to be human, we will all make frequent visits.
My worship pastor and good friend, through choked emotion, said a few weeks ago, “For some…life is the Valley of Weeping−it is the Valley of Tears. So it’s not just this issue of deliverance, it’s not just God delivering you out of it, which he does, praise God that he does, but he doesn’t do that for everyone, some he keeps in this valley. So this whole life is passing through the valley of tears.”
He then posed the question I think many of us ask ourselves, how can a person who seems to have been given permanent residence in the Valley, experience God as good, as kind, as loving? How can they find strength in him while they dwell, some for their whole lives, in this valley of weeping?
He continued to explain that we must impress on our hearts the truth of 2 Corinthians, where it says our suffering is light and momentary in view of the Gospel. That is, our strength in suffering is found when we run to the protective covering that is Jesus’ suffering on our behalf. There we find compassion and empathy. There we find God, who, while fully capable of deliverance, can and often does more in the passing through than the climbing over. There we find the man who left Heaven to live among us in our filth and heartache−to bring us back.
So I sat in church as he said this, ugly crying (not unusual, really. I fully expect they will soon designate me a row −covered in protective plastic, boxes of tissues and tubes of waterproof mascara). I wept, not for my own sorrow, but for the pain of those I know who truly have a permanent address in the Valley of Tears. I longed to act on their behalf, to cry out in their stead. I began to ask myself, “What is our response as the Church, as members of this Body, to those suffering?” For those Valley dwellers, how do we as fellow Image bearers step into a role of responsibility without being overbearing or self-serving?
The answer, I feel, is this: Move In With Them
There is an old movie called “What Dreams May Come.” (Though theologically unsound, I still HIGHLY recommend this movie. It has all the feels). In it, a man’s wife commits suicide after his death and goes to hell. He decides to leave heaven to find her. When he does, she is sitting in a replica of their home that is falling down. She doesn’t recognize him and he can’t bring her back from her place in the shadows. So he joins her. He moves into her nightmare−giving one of the most Gospel-rich, yet cheese-tastic lines of all time− “I forgive you…for being so wonderful a guy would choose hell over heaven just to hang around you.”
For those dwelling in the Valley of Tears, sometimes the only thing you can do for them is set up residence next door. Romans 12:15 sets out our mission pretty succinctly: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
Our responsibility falls not in being a fixer, but sometimes in just joining them.
I don’t tell many people this (so you are welcome, internet stranger!), but several years ago, when my husband and I were first married, I got perpetually sick. For months I was tested for autoimmune disease, and told I most likely had Lupus. I had been tested for years before this, all without answers. I was anxious, stressed from graduating and stepping out into the ‘real world’. I was battling depression−and now finding out that I might have a disease that would drastically change my life, and my new marriage. I became despondent, medicated, and lost in the dark storm of self-pity and fear. My marriage was suffering, and I had nothing to offer to fix it. Then one day my amazing husband brought me a gift. It was a pink hooded jacket. He explained that it was specially made to block UV rays (one of the things that causes Lupus flare-ups).
He had found a way to move in with me. To show me that, while he couldn’t understand, he was trying to join me.
That pink jacket hangs in my closet to this day, relatively unused because our God is a merciful healer (another story for another day.) It is a daily reminder of the impact of empathy and fierce healing love. It is a reminder that in my darkest hour, in the depths of the Valley of Weeping, a man chose to dwell with me in the muck−and in every way it saved me.
I totally get that you can’t go buy a little pink jacket for every hurting person in your life. What I am suggesting is to find practical ways to encourage them as they reach out to Jesus for strength. I am admittedly very bad at this, with a long list of my own hurting people that I have run from or isolated. But here are a few ways this has been done for me, and maybe they can help us both be better at it:
- Intercession through prayer. Don’t just say you will−DO IT! You will be amazed at the insight and the power God will give you to further minister.
- Just listen.
- Send encouraging texts, cards, wall posts… doesn’t matter the medium, and it’s quick and easy!
- Ask how things are and be ready to listen, then ask how you can pray.
- Don’t change how you act around them. Let them just “be.”
- Hugs-they fix a lot.
- Try some good old-fashioned non-complementary behavior (a psychological term for what I think of as grace). Meet their hostility with love, their grumps with joy and understanding.
- Remind them of what God has done. Don’t be obnoxious, but be to them like a Psalm, looking back on who God is. We fight the lies of darkness with truth.
What are some ways people have moved into the Valley with you? I would love to hear them!
-Check out the awesome sermon that inspired this post at Church at the Cross