There is a trail in Vermont called the 5 Trees Trail that I enjoy. It is really hard to find, and rarely is it on trail maps of the area. When you do find it, it appears to be nothing special: you drive through a neighborhood, park in someone’s hay field, and you question if you are in the right place. It is a basic trail through the woods and a first time hiker might think… what is so special about this trail? It’s nothing much, a few boardwalks over boggy parts, some steeper climbs, some twists and turns, but not too many people on it and nothing outstanding in the hiking of it. I always say, keep on walking, just wait…
I have been deep in prayer for a family we knowwho has been walking through the valley of the shadow of death for several weeks now. The time is near when their small daughter will meet Jesus face to face, and when all that they have been living for during the last 5 ½ years is ending. She has been a very sick child many times in her short life. Many times have they walked through this valley, but this time it seems different, death is closer, Heaven seems near.
The path they are on is not easy. Each day, they hold their breaths and wait. Will it be today? Is this the last? Maybe tomorrow. But it will come. Some days it seems like the worst has passed and she will keep plugging, others they wonder will she make it to tomorrow. The fear and uncertainty that accompanies this time is hard to imagine, even for myself who has spent my own time in the valley of the shadow of death.
And the psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 23 is where I find my heart for them.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death…
I will fear no evil, for God is with me.
The thought I am struck with is that we are all in the valley somewhere. Something is bringing us down. We are bogged in busy, bogged in work, stuck in a trauma of some kind. We are head down, pushing forward. Some days its okay and the path is smooth and simple. Some days, the stress of the climb is nearly too much to bear.
But my encouragement to them, and to those of you in the valley, is just what I say to my fellow hikers on the 5 Trees Trail. Keep walking. Just wait. It gets better. It will be worth the climb.
On this trail, there are a few miles of walking a narrow path of gentle & not so gentle inclines, including some steep sections that are rocky and rooted. Climb up for awhile and down again, only to go up some more. Kind of like the path of life in times of trouble.
If we go back one verse from the valley of the shadow of Death we see that…
He (the LORD) guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake…
GOD is leading us on this path, on HIS path. We are led on the path through the valleys as well as the one near the green pastures, and the one beside quiet waters… for His sake, for HIS glory! We are not alone in the valleys of life. He is still leading us, guiding us, restoring us, giving us rest.
For my friends, the path they are choosing is the path of Faith. Faith in the goodness of God. Faith in the truth of the Scriptures. Faith in the place called Heaven. Faith in a Savior who will hold them up when all they want to do is fall down. Faith in a leading, guiding, loving Father who will show them the way when they can hardly take another step. Faith that His way is the right way, and that the time spent in the shadowy valley is not a place to be afraid, but rather a place to fully put our trust in Him.
On the 5 Trees Trail, after an hour or so of ups and downs in the dark and quiet woods, suddenly you come out of the woods into what looks like someone’s backyard. You question, did we miss a turn? Are we in the right place? Do we walk through their yard? The signs point you on, so the brave continue.
After walking through their yard on a neatly clipped path… You see a bench, and then you see the view that goes for miles. Overlooking the whole of Burlington, Lake Champlain and the upper Champlain Valley area. On a clear day, you can see the Adirondacks of New York, and up into the Champlain Islands. It really is breathtaking. It was worth the ups and downs, the questions, the doubts. The bigger picture is amazing.
While we are in the valleys of our lives, or in the darkness of the woods, stumbling along day to day, we just can’t see the bigger picture God is painting in our times of trouble. We are so stuck in the valley, in the pit, in the act of choosing where to place each simple little step, that the end, the peak, is not something we often stop to contemplate.
But the END is what matters. The bigger picture IS what matters. The little steps we take in faith, one by one by one, get us to the mountaintop, and to that gorgeous picture He creates with each of our small steps of faith.
Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord
And to the house of the God of Jacob,
That He may teach us about His ways,
And that we may walk in His paths.
At any point on the hike, we are free to turn around. But if we turn around or go off track we don’t get to see the glorious view from the top. All we see is more of the rocky path, or we get caught on the brambles hiding in the shadows of the valley. If you are in a valley, the valley of the shadow of death, or the valley of fear, or the valley of anxiety over what’s next, do not be afraid. Christ is with you. He tells us that again and again in His Word. His Words is comfort to us, a light to our path, if we only allow him to lead.
Questions of “are we on the right path?” come up frequently when hiking and in life. But just keep walking through the woods, through the fields, through someone’s backyard, and the payoff will be well worth the effort. In the times of unknowing, just trust that something greater than we can imagine is yet to come.
The glorious picture is painted from on high, where He will take us after our time in the valley is done. Only from the mountain top we can see the view, and we can only get to the top by walking the ways of God.