I have been through the valley of weeping
The valley of sorrow and pain
But the “God of all comfort,” was with me
To comfort, to hold and sustain.
As the earth needs clouds and sunshine,
Our souls need both sorrow and joy
So He places us oft in the furnace, The dross from the gold to destroy.
When He leads thru valleys of trouble His omnipotent hand we trace,
For the trials and sorrows He sends us Are part of His lessons in grace.
from the Hymn by Clement Cotterill Scholefield
I came across these words when I was researching the Baca Valley in Israel, an arid hard place, whose name translates to the Valley of Weeping or Adversity. This week my daughter lost an old friend. In her grief she has found herself deep within this valley of the shadow.
We all go through times walking with loss, with pain, with illness, with suffering. And usually these valley times are balanced by treks upwards into joy, creativity, success, and love. I have listened to many discuss the idea that without the valleys we would have no way to truly appreciate the mountaintop experiences. I cannot completely agree, nor do I totally endorse the sentiment that we are given troubles and pain deliberately, “placing us in the furnace” to teach us or reach us. Which loving parent among you, would place your child in the fire, even if they might be better for it? Or who of us would deliberately send someone we loved trials and troubles? The world is filled with valleys real enough to stumble into that there is no need to force any upon us…we will find ourselves in them whether we wish to or not.
In my years in social work I met many who lived much, even most, of their lives in Baca. For some, even when they tried to leave, to find hope in the midst of their adversity, something or someone pulled at them, and after days away, or months, or years, back to the valley they trod. Why does it seem that for some the valley is so deep and the hills surrounding so steep they are insurmountable barriers to escape from the low places? Perhaps someday I will know. But what can we do and what do we feel when this happens to someone despite our best efforts, our lending a hand, or setting out signposts to the way out?
My Social Work Student Interns used to ask these questions all the time. A lot of them felt that if even one lost sheep strayed, returning to old directions, old friends, or old ways of life, they had failed. Or they managed perspective until the day one very special lamb, one that came so far, who touched them so much, or reminded them of a family member, or of themselves, or of why they chose our profession, turned their backs on the future and re-embraced their past. Sometimes the valley pulls us in along with those we try to help.
But even if they will not come with us, we must begin our climb again, because we were all made for the mountaintops. C.S. Lewis called them our true home…even if climbing to the heights may not be simple. In fact, though it may take incredible effort, I think that we grow in the journey. Lewis in The Great Divorce has heaven be a journey to the real, even though the first steps on the path come with pain. So much that lives in the valley is only an imitation of what is real, often a quick fix, a poor substitute. Still the climb is not easy, so we need respites, and friends and loved ones to share the journey with.
When I was a child I remember a song we used to sing, that now in retrospect makes some sense of this if you reorder the lyrics a little:
Down in the valley, the valley so low, Hang your head over, Hear the winds blow, Throw your arms round me, before it’s too late, throw your arms round me, feel my heart break, Down in the valley walking between, Telling our story, Here’s what it means, Roses love sunshine, violets love dew, Angels in Heaven, know I love you.
So I wish that if you find yourself in Baca, you begin your climb once more. Follow your angels, grasp their hands, throw your arms around those you love and climb out of the valleys that hold you.