I am learning a lot about the dark places: the trials and the valleys we go through. Hindsight is always 20/20, and right now my vision of the past few years of my life is just starting to clear up.
A few years ago, I stepped foot in the Czech Republic for a three-month summer service project, and that was the day this roller coaster of learning and digressing, growing and shrinking, progressing and regressing began. I don’t think I had ever “lost my joy” prior to that point. Actually, the opposite is very true. I was experiencing God to the fullest, or what I thought to be the fullest, prior to that point.
With Czech entered the most spiritually, emotionally and intellectually trying time of my life—scary to think that every other trial in my life paled in comparison to this. With Czech entered the swift decent from a three-year spiritual mountaintop. The valley of examining what I believe, who I am, who God is and where my joy lies came into view that day.
If I trace it, those three months ushered in a low that lasted through college graduation a year later and brought a new phase of trials and waiting. It has been almost two years since I graduated, and I am only now catching a glimpse of what God has been doing.
How would I describe it? Confusion, turmoil, doubt, questioning, learning, understanding, stretching, discomfort, hurt, loneliness, fear, waiting. It has been dark and bleak, cold and miserable, but joy comes in the morning. The dawn brings light to a new day, to hope.
I am not yet able to verbalize all the lessons I have learned during this journey through the valley, but I have come away knowing that the dark places really can be holy places.
The valleys are not to be shied away from, but embraced. W. Phillip Keller, in A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, writes, “As Christians, we will sooner or later discover that it is in the valleys of our lives that we find refreshment from God Himself. It is not until we have walked with Him through some very deep troubles that we discover He can lead us to find our refreshment in Him right there in the midst of our difficulty.”
These valleys are often necessary. I still don’t know how to keep the joy throughout them, but I think I am in the midst of learning that. I know God commands us to always give thanks. I know in Psalm 26 David sets God’s goodness and loving kindness before him, and then he speaks, gives voice to his thanksgiving. He vocalizes truth, and God in turn gives him a grateful heart. I know these valleys grow us and change us (James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-5).
C.S. Lewis writes in Till We Have Faces, “Nothing is yet in its true form.” We are being transformed. We want to be on higher ground with God, but we often have to be broken and shattered, being re-formed to handle the high, holy places of God.
God is forming my true face on me, chipping away at the mask that has made itself at home in my life for so long. Before the finest gold ring can adorn the hand of the one so deserving, the gold must first be melted down, refined, molded and set. I think I am being poured into the mold right now.