We all get stuck some times. And being human, we’re hardwired to hate the experience of being stuck. A few months ago, our little family of four was making the long trek home after visiting some friends. As we were saddling up to depart, our friends told us about a new route home. The word on the street was that it could save us up to 15 minutes. Now… that may not sound like much, but if you have small children along for the ride, every minute is precious my friend.
Eager to shorten our trip, we set off. Things were going along smoothly until suddenly, it happened. The dreaded stand still traffic. Like captains at sea headed into an unavoidable hurricane, my wife and I began encouraging our little sailors in the back. “Everything’s going to be just fine boys.” But minutes turned into hours. This was that special breed of stand still traffic that truly lives up to the name. The kind where you literally – Don’t. Move. An. Inch. I pulled up an app on my phone in desperation hoping that the road would clear just ahead. Or perhaps, there was an alternate route? No dice. The traffic jam was miles and miles long and there was no alternate route. The calmness eventually spiraled into non-stop wailing from the back seat and constant requests for potty stops. But alas, there was no potty in sight. It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way, my wife and I thought. It was supposed to be a comfortable trip home. But as the minutes turned in to hours, my wife and I began to embrace reality. We… were stuck. The good news is that a few hours later we emerged and made it home safely. The bad news is that I no longer have hearing in my left ear and my hair line receded a significant amount that day.
Life is a lot like that car ride for many of us. We’re all strapped in for a smooth ride. And then something happens. Except, unlike our traffic jam, it’s much more stressful, painful, angering and frightening. We think to ourselves, “It’s not supposed to be like this!” Or even worse, we fear that we took a wrong turn and that God has left us stuck endlessly in a place of pain. We wait for the cars to clear in our traffic jam of the heart, but alas, there seems to be no end in sight. Chaos often ensues in the form of depression, anger, anxiety, desperation, bitterness, and loneliness… just to name a few.
There are many words in the Bible for this common human experience. But perhaps the most descriptive is the Valley. King David records the following words in what is likely the most famous of all 150 Psalms. The fact that the Valley is the subject of the most famous of all of the Psalms is certainly not an accident. The popularity of the 23rd Psalm is a testimony to how common valleys are in the human experience. If anyone would have had cause to assume that life would move along smoothly, surely it was the anointed king of God’s chosen people. Surely, the road was relatively smooth for him, right? Maybe the occasional hiccup, but he certainly never experienced the darkness and pain of the valley… right? His words tell a different story than we might assume though. Apparently, he was quite familiar with the valley. He writes the following in Psalm 23:1-4:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me…
Over the next few posts, we’re going to journey through the valley together… this traffic jam of the heart. So let me pause here to acknowledge the difficulty of discussing such a tough topic. In particular, I want to acknowledge that many of you who have read this far are in the valley at this very moment. The valley takes many different forms. For some it may be a traffic jam of the heart. But for others, the roadways of your heart have been literally shattered into pieces before your very eyes. My passion for journeying with others through this difficult topography arose out of my own experiences in the valley. I am intimately acquainted with its pain and darkness. I don’t think you ever graduate from the valley. The still waters of the valley are ones that I need Him to guide me to again and again. I have found that while there are no formulas here, no quick fixes or band aids, and no certainly no diplomas… Jesus does begin a lifelong journey of restoration and renewal here that will one day reach its climax we see Him face to face and every imperfection is swallowed up by His perfection.
With that said… I want to close out this first post with a few observations and encouragements.
Grace and Rest for the journey,
I'm married to an incredible woman, Joni. We have two little treasures, Zach (4) and Jon (2). We moved out to Valley Haven Camp and Retreat Center in Hickory, NC in April of 2015 and are excited to see Jesus cultivate a relational context for restoration and renewal in His Gospel and grace out here under these beautiful mountains.