Despite the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Peyton Garland

iBelieve Editor
Published: Jan 23, 2023
Despite the Valley of the Shadow of Death Plus

But while I know God is good, that existence, finite and eternal, hinges only on Christ’s loveliness, one gnawing question paralyzes my hope: does God deem me good, sufficient, or worthy enough for Him to stay? 

“You could go on disability,” my husband pressed. His words were soft, steady, everything gut-wrenching. Pride tugged at the walls of my throat, humility challenging me to swallow the undeniable truth:

My Obsessive-compulsive Disorder was more than a few diagnostic words scratched on a prescription. It was, and remains, a debilitating, diabolical drudgery that crept into the crannies of my brain and the cracks in my heart. My capacity to function as any other healthy woman was impossible.

However, I wouldn’t dare go on disability—good girls, bold girls, and tough girls fight all the demons away without raising a white flag. Such are the women God welcomes to His round table of prestige, nobility, and worthiness, no? 

The Valley of Those Who Try Too Hard

Yet, girls like us don’t fight the enemy; unknowingly, we fight the chinks in our own armor. We turn on our souls. We use titles, trophies, and perfection as our greatest weapons against our humanity, uselessly struggling with ourselves “as one who beats the air” (1 Corinthians 9:26).

In a fallen world, we aren’t shielded from our failures and inabilities, but the corrupted art of assuming we can conquer impossible standards unscathed is a lifeless shot at, well, living.

But while I know God is good, that existence, finite and eternal, hinges only on Christ’s loveliness, one gnawing question paralyzes my hope: does God deem me good, sufficient, or worthy enough for Him to stay? 

Am I salvageable? Useful? Forever welcome? Does the slightest effort I produce showcase Christ’s light though my mind lives in the valley of the shadows? 

A burning bush lends no hint; an angel never offers a haiku of clues. 

The Shadows' Power Dissolves in Surrender

Rather, the holy grail is uncovered as I refuse to surrender my need for answers. Through this relentless pursuit of God’s character, I discover the image of His longsuffering and faithfulness. It’s as though God says:

If you haven’t left Me, did it ever cross your mind that there’s no way I’m leaving you? (Remember, darling, I carry the weight of this relationship. And I not only carry it well, but I carry it perfectly.) You’ve chased after me, even at your worst moments. What more have I ever wanted of My own? 

To earn God’s steadfastness, I must confess perfection as unattainable, accessing God's favor by being human and enduring an incurable, enfeebling disorder. 

In 2 Corinthians 12:6-8, Paul has discovered the same humbling, near-numbing truth. He writes, “Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool... in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.”

Paul chooses humility willingly, and in admitting his humanity, he hears the voice of God: 

“But [Christ] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

A Beautiful Exchange

God offers us His power in exchange for our tainted plights. He loves us with such a deep understanding that the pathway to His presence requires nothing more than our shortcomings. 

Granted, I don’t suggest you ignore refinement, progress, and healing. Stay forever true to a heart of repentance. However, on the journey to discovering Christ has dignified your being, remember His presence is loudest and most honored to walk alongside your darkest days. 

“Yea; though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me...” (Psalm 23:4, emphasis added).

Amid this beautiful exchange, as we receive God's enduring friendship for our messy souls, how do we walk our dark, shadowy paths? Once we give Jesus the mess we are, what comes next? How do we survive life's gray, bleak days? 

What to Do with Such an Exchange

We hope. We actively choose each day to look for the ways God's beauty defeats the darkness. Though this practice begins in the mind, to maximize the peace and purpose, we must let it catalyze a physical and emotional response. Some responses might require that you sacrifice time, some finances, and some comfort. But they reap a reward nothing mortal can provide. 

Perhaps you can:

-start your morning thanking God for the sunrise and the breath in your lungs. 

-schedule a therapy session or ask a trusted, accountable friend to check in on you each week.

-write a thank you note once a week to send to friends, family, or coworkers who have shown you kindness. 

-go out of your way to compliment a stranger in the grocery store or nail salon.

-purchase a journal and list ten things you are grateful for each day.

-volunteer at church or donate your time and efforts to a local soup kitchen or clothes closet.

-tell Satan, "you won't win this one."

No matter what you are battling, perhaps its perfectionism, a physical disability, severed relationships, a mental disorder— anything tragic a sinful world might pose—one cosmic burst of truth remains forever kindled: despite the critics, the doctors, the doubters, and one's perception of their darkest season, God’s own are promised a cup that runneth over (Psalm 23:5). 

I’m not sure what such a cup truly looks like, feels like, or offers. And honestly, I'm not sure if this cup exists on earth or if it's a marvelous gift we receive once our finite bodies surrender to God's glory in heaven, but as I bask in the faithful sunrise, notice the relief in a stranger’s kind words, and take in the miracle of a tiny white pill providing my brain rest, creation whispers of its Creator: 

Hope is here.

For more on Peyton's battle with Obsessive-compulsive Disorder, check out her latest book Tired, Hungry, & Kinda Faithful: where exhaustion and exile meet God

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/AlexLinch

Peyton Garland headshotPeyton Garland is an author and coffee shop hopper who loves helping others find beauty from ashes despite OCD, burned bridges, and perfectionism. Follow her on Instagram @peytonmgarland and check out her latest book, Tired, Hungry, & Kinda Faithful, Where Exhaustion and Exile Meet God, to discover how your cup can overflow, even in dry seasons.