“Even though I walk through the dark valley of death,
Because You are with me, I fear no harm.”
We have all tasted of “the dark valley of death,” whether it is physical death of someone dear, or something in our own life experience that felt like a death, it seems impossible that anyone on this planet has escaped that dark valley.
Our little lambs were born in the night. We had not yet realized that all of the ewes were carrying lambs, which appeared as an on-going surprise for us. The first we knew there was something happening, my son heard a chorus of coyotes in the night. We had never seen any coyotes, but they had obviously heard the baa-ing of the tiny new lambs, and had encircled our field, anticipating a midnight feast. Their chilling howls made it clear that about a dozen of them had joined the midnight watch of lambs being born. Nate had heard them, and had gone out to the pen to find the new lambs as well as to make his presence known to the coyotes. THankfully, they left our field when the shepherd made his presence known. It was a chilling reminder of how the Enemy of our Souls lurks in the darkness, salivating in anticipation of devouring another of God’s lambs who have not come under the care and protection of the Good Shepherd.
When the winter’s cold began to soften, and the earth’s warmth began to bring with it the bugs that seem to love the wool of our lambs, we could see some irritations for the sheep. Tiny bugs and mites began to find refuge in their tight, nubby wool. It was a reminder of how vulnerable our sheep were to hidden irritants that find refuge in their wool. We had to curtail the amount of petting and touching we could do with the affectionate lambs.
I was reminded of the very practical information in the Bible of how shepherds divided up their flocks. People in the Middle East / North Africa have an ancient rule of thumb: RIght hand is used for clean touch, left hand for dirty. The shepherd used his right hand for contact with the sheep whose wool was healthy, but his left hand was used only for those sheep with the irritating mites or anything gross in their fur. Without this care, the mites and other irritants could spread to anything or anyone who touched them. I would only let myself rub the head of an affectionate lamb with my left hand, not touching anything else until I’d washed that hand. We did not want to spread anything from the lambs to other sheep or to people. This ancient rule of sanitary touch still holds today in many parts of the world, including the desert where my Saharawi refugee nation shepherd their camels, goats and sheep.
At the age of 15, I experienced a very dark night of my soul. I now believe it was depression. I told no one what I was going through, and no one asked. But I would spend most of my non-school time alone in my room. I became isolated, pulling away from friends, believing they didn’t really want me with them, and feeling that I was doing them a favor by turning down any invitations to spend time together. It was a dark, spiraling time, but naming it “depression” was not even in my vocabulary nor frame of reference. I just knew that I was in a very bad place, and needed to get out of the black hole that was drawing me downward.
In desperation, I cried out to God (silently), knowing that if He didn’t intervene in what was going on in my mind, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I asked Him to speak something…anything to my heart to save me from the deep despair I felt. I let my Bible fall open on my lap, and my eye was caught by these ancient words of Isaiah,
“A broken reed He will not break, and a smoldering flame He will not snuff out.”
As I read the ancient words….words I had no memory of hearing before, I knew immediately that I was that broken reed, hanging by a thread from being completely broken, and I was that smoldering flame, barely still lit, and ready to become a brief puff of smoke…and gone.
In that moment, I knew that God saw me, He knew my hopelessness, and the reasons behind it.
I knew He was there with me, and with no hint of condemnation, was giving me a sense of hope. Although I had no thought of what life would unfold for me, God’s intention was to give me life. And that was what I had needed to know….between Him and me. Personally. No further details were needed. It was enough to know that He saw me, knew what was going on in my mind and heart, and was intervening on my behalf, assuring me that He was with me.