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Life in the Valley: Staying Faithful in the Hard Places

  • Hannah Brencher
Life in the Valley: Staying Faithful in the Hard Places

“Can I come home yet?”I ask her.

I am in Connecticut for the first time since moving to Atlanta. I am talking to Carol, someone who has been a spiritual mentor to me for the last few years. I’ve slept on her couch while she and her husband have gone on date nights and brought me home ice cream like I’m their child.

“It’s been six months and I don’t feel like anything is happening,” I tell her.

The vision in my head of what I thought a new city would look like has not come to fruition, and I would like to give up now.

“No,”she says matter-of-factly. “You’re in the valley.”

"You're in the valley. Welcome to it."

I’ve never been able to understand why Christians talk about “the valley”so much. We talk about the valley like we’re all on some pilgrimage, hauling backpacks across dry land for years before we see any sight of water. I’ve learned no one ever talks about the valley like it’s a good thing. Just the opposite—everyone dreads the valley.

When everything was exciting and new, I was happy to be in Atlanta. But eventually things stop being cool and we are left with everyday life.

“You’re in the valley.”This is her third time saying it. “Welcome to it.”

She touches my shoulder as if she’s welcoming me to a club she’s been in for years.

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"It's painful to realize the world doesn't revolve around you"

I do all the normal things when I fly home that first time. I go to a baby shower for a friend. I hang out at a diner with people I love. I even make a fool of myself sitting in front of a guy I used to date, telling him I want to try again. I am not sure I really want to try again, but I am looking for something to tether me back to this place where I am comfortable.

The guy rejects me. He doesn’t want to play this game with me. I think I am acting sincere, but I am really just being pathetic. It hurts to be home because I look around and realize everyone is doing just fine. Church is still happening on Sunday. Guys I dated are moving on. It’s painful to realize the world doesn’t revolve around you and people go on living once you leave.

I spend the rest of my time at home plowing through the Bible, searching for every reference to a valley I can find.

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"Something really beautiful and necessary happens in the valley"

Turns out, valleys are depressing places in the Bible, too, when we first look at them. Look a little closer though. Something happens in the valley. Something really beautiful and necessary happens in the valley. But really, this is most of my relationship with God. I see some dismal outcome and God is constantly pushing me to look closer and see something different.

I want God to pluck me out of this time of waiting, give me all the answers I’m asking for, and then send me on my way to my next adventure.

And so I tell him, “Pluck me out of this time of waiting, give me all the answers I am asking for, and then send me on my way to my next adventure.”

But no. He just leads me to Leviticus. Where there is plenty of valley stuff. Like God is sending me to my room, I get sent to the confines of Leviticus.

Photo by Chaz McGregor on Unsplash

"We are so obsessed with the hustle and the grind that we don’t know how to stop and wait on God."

I begin sitting with the Israelites, and let me tell you, the Israelites are real bundles of fun when it comes to this waiting stuff. They’re never happy.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites escape Egypt and end up at the foot of Mount Sinai. Scholars call this the “Wilderness of Sinai.” The text says they spent those months resting, teaching, building, and meeting with God face-to-face.

We’d label those Israelites as lazy today. We are so obsessed with the hustle and the grind that we don’t know how to stop and wait on God.

I think about Moses, the guy in charge of leading those Israelites, and how he climbed up the mountain of Sinai to meet with God. He stayed there for forty days and forty nights. 

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"Reality is the tough stuff."

Moses is probably gone for less than a day before the Israelites go stir-crazy and want a new god. They decide they’re going to make their own god, and they settle on a golden calf to worship.

We look at this and think we would never do something so dumb. But you can replace the word cow with anything we find in everyday life that we think could fill us more than God could. I would definitely be dancing around the cow in the hope that the cow would affirm me and make me feel alive.

Moses comes off the mountaintop and has to face all of this crap. If I’d been Moses, I would have wanted to be done. I would have been angry over the fact that I’d just had this perfect time and communion with God and then was forced to walk down the mountain and go back to reality. Reality is the tough stuff. Reality is what happens when we make ourselves come back to earth instead of running.

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"The valley is full of travelers."

We want to run because it feels too hard to stay in these places where we aren’t sure of what’s coming next.

When I think I am on a solo quest, I realize the valley is full of travelers. Some are plowing full steam ahead. Others are tired and have stopped walking. Oswald Chambers writes, “God gives us a vision, and then He takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of that vision. It is in the valley that so many of us faint and give way."


Hannah Brencher is a writer, a national speaker, and the founder of The World Needs More Love Letters. Named as one of the White House's Women Working to Do Good and a spokesperson for the United States Postal Service, Hannah has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, O: The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, the Chicago Tribune, and dozens of other publications. Her latest book, Come Matter Here, is available now. 

Taken from Come Matter Here by Hannah Brencher. Copyright © 2018. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
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