How do you view valleys? Geographically they can be beautiful, desolate, or anything in between. When we think of valleys in our lives, most of us would not associate them with anything positive.
As we move through this week to finish the 3-week series using Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard as the focus, you may recall our main character, Much Afraid, lived in the Valley of Humiliation before the Chief Shepherd had invited her to go with him to the High Places that she had often longed to go. The valley for her was not desolate in terrain, but devoid of love and healthy relational connection and she had sought to escape it for quite some time. Her lame feet, crooked mouth, and lack of skills and courage held her in bondage to stay where she had been born.
Trusting the Chief Shepherd had always been a challenge as she moved up each tier of slopes with the support of Sorrow and Suffering. The path to the High Places was sometimes barely a trail and took them over precipices that were steep and dangerous, across deserts that seemed to be going in the wrong direction, and through foreboding forests and storms. Each of these brought them further into steeper mountain ranges leading to the High Places despite appearing to have detours.
Our lives can be much that way as well. Over and over again we may face detours that seem to be taking us in the opposite direction of where we want to go or feel we are called to go. We, too, can struggle with doubt and trust because of what our eyes tell us about the direction we appear to be headed.
Much Afraid thought surely, they had reached a point on the journey that it would no longer have a point that seemed to take them away from the High Places, but when the Chief Shepherd gave them directions to the next part of the journey Much Afraid was deeply discouraged.
“Now instead of that the path was leading them down into a valley as low as the Valley of Humiliation itself. All the height which they had gained after their long and toilsome journey must now be lost and they would have to begin all over again. Just as though they had never made a start so long ago and endured so many difficulties and tests.”Hannah Hurnard
It was easy to recall all the tormenting fearful voices once again from her own valley that warned her about trusting the Chief Shepherd to lead her to the places she longed to go. Recalling his promises, she wondered again if she could trust them or choose her own path instead that would not take her to this fearsome valley that lay ahead. She was certain she did not have the strength to follow the Chief Shepherd down to this valley He pointed to and then try to retrace her steps up the treacherous slopes she had just managed.
“During that awful moment or two it seemed to Much Afraid that she was actually looking into an abyss of horror, into an existence in which there was no Shepherd to follow or to trust or to love – no Shepherd at all, nothing but her own horrible self. Ever after, it seemed that she had looked straight down into Hell. At the end of that moment Much Afraid shrieked – there is no other word for it.
‘Shepherd,’ she shrieked, ‘Shepherd! Shepherd! Help me! Where are you? Don’t leave me!”Hannah Gurnard
To choose our own way and refuse the path God sets before us opens each one of us to consider what it would be like to travel through life without Him. I wonder if we were to consider that and experience the horror of what it would be like as Much Afraid did if we would be quicker to follow in obedience and trust that wherever He calls us, He will be there. It reminds me of a passage of scripture that looks at what we can rely on when we are in between a rock and a hard place.
“But now, God’s Message,
the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,
the One who got you started, Israel:
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
I’ve called your name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
trade the creation just for you.”Isaiah 43:1-4 (MSG)
Perhaps the Chief Shepherd had those very historical memories in mind when he heard Much Afraid crying out for help. His response to her should encourage our own hearts whether we are facing a deep valley, a dry desert, or desolate mountains to climb.
“He lifted her up, supported her by his arm, and with his own hand wiped the tears from her cheeks, then said in his strong cheery voice, ‘ There is no question of your turning back, Much Afraid. No one, not even your own shrinking heart, can pluck you out of my hand. Don’t you remember what I told you before? This delay is not unto death but for the glory of God.'”Hannah Hurnard
And at the top of the path before descending into the valley, Much Afraid stopped to build another altar and then chose another memorial stone to carry with the other stones she had kept from each altar she built.
Much Afraid knew now that nothing could satisfy her except to be with the Chief Shepherd no matter how hard the journey or how much trembling it might evoke within her.
“Nothing else really matters,” she said to herself, “only to love him and to do what he tells me. I don’t know quite why it should be so, but it is. All the time it is suffering to love and sorrow to love, but it is lovely to love him in spite of this, and if I should cease to do so, I should cease to exist.”Hannah Hurnard