Monday, December 16, 2013

Refreshment in the Valley of Weeping

Last night I found myself praying for a couple of friends who have faced far more than their share of grief and tears this year. Somehow, life often seems to work this way. When it's sunny, everything is wonderful and the blessings flow freely, but when it rains, it pours. There's often not a whole lot of middle ground. These dear friends have faced one loss after another over the past number of months, and my heart has just been breaking for them. I just prayed that God would in some way redeem their sufferings and make them beautiful, and that he would turn their tears into blessings. I had no idea where that prayer came from, but I knew I hadn't just come up with it myself, so I started flipping through my Bible (well, to see if there is a passage that says something like that. And there is.

Psalm 84:5-6 says, "Happy are the people whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a source of springs; even the autumn rain will cover it with blessings." The Valley of Baca was a place right on the path toward Jerusalem that many people traveled every year as they made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. It was filled with thorns, wild animals, vipers, and all kinds of other danger, and because of the hardship people faced when they had to cross through it, it got its name, which means "the valley of weeping." It is believed to be part of the desert of Beersheba--which is where Hagar and Ishmael were sent away from Abraham's house to wander in the desert alone. It is where the prophet Elijah experienced a deep depression, almost to the point of death. Some scholars think it could also be an area that Abraham passed through when he went on his "test of obedience" to sacrifice his son Isaac.

We are all on a pilgrimage right now. Life itself is a pilgrimage, and this world is not our home. But as we are on this pilgrimage, we are bound to pass through the Valley of Weeping, probably at many different times in our lives, simply because we dwell in a broken world. Simply because it is not our home.

I can't claim to know what your Valley of Weeping is right now, and perhaps, you aren't walking through it right now at all. But I know that someone who's reading this is. I just know that, because brokenness is unavoidable in this life we lead. Maybe you are a new parent and feel terribly inadequate and exhausted and afraid of messing up and sorrowful even though everyone is telling you this should be the happiest time of your life but you're too depressed and tired to figure it out. Maybe your friend or family member was hurt in a car accident. Maybe you or someone you love has just gotten that terrible phone call from the doctor, and the test results came back positive. Maybe you just moved to a new city or even another country and you feel alone and wonder if "home" will ever really mean anything to you again. Maybe the relationship you thought was everything you wanted and needed has painfully fallen apart, leaving you shocked and aching.

Or maybe you have lost someone you love, and all you can even wonder is how on earth your heart can feel so empty and so heavy all at the same time, especially as the holiday season approaches and it seems like the entire world is happy and excited but you. And your chest aches because, after all, your heart is breaking. You fear growing old, because this person's death has left the biggest gaping hole in your life, and you don't think it can ever be filled, and you fear losing others as time passes and having a life that looks like Swiss cheese someday--ragged and full of holes. Because you are grieving and your nerves are shot, normal amounts of stimulation are just too much, and being around people makes you feel like the world is screaming at you, even though you can't bear to be alone. And even though you're sick, so sick, of crying, the tears come again and you know that this is your valley of weeping.

I don't have the answers, but I do know that ultimately Jesus went through the valley of weeping too, and He did it for us. And this passage from Psalms actually suggests that God can transform our tears into a source of blessings and refreshment. When you walk through the valley of weeping, you will make it a source of springs. God can even use our tears to be a source of refreshment in the desert. He holds every last one in his hands and records them in His book, because He cares about every one and cares even more about the heart they come from. And then he sends the rain to cover our own desert and our own "valley of weeping" with blessings, as our tears mingle with the rain of grace and flow into a stream of blessings. The autumn rain will cover the valley of weeping with blessings. The prophet Ezekiel wrote that the Lord will send showers of blessing just when they are needed. These are such beautiful word pictures. The very hand that formed our hearts sends showers of blessing to rain on our desert places, and to mix with our own tears to become an oasis of hope. In other words, God really does turn our tears into blessings, indeed our valley of weeping into a gentle, compassionate rain of blessings, like a free fall of His Spirit and His hope into our hearts.

And this is such a reminder that it's ok to cry. A lot of us try to be tough almost all the time, to not let our guard down, and to not express our true emotions. But I don't always have to be tough, and neither do you. Sometimes we need to shed that facade like last year's fashion and realize that there are occasions where we need to cry. If that's your life right now, I hope you will allow yourself to simply feel what you are feeling and know that somehow the Lord gently uses even our tears and pain to become a source of blessings and refreshment in the darkest valley. Thank you for reading--I'm praying for y'all tonight.

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