The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Tuesday evening, my heart broke twice.

First, it broke when I received the news that Pat, a beloved parishioner, had passed away.  Pat was a wonderful woman who will leave behind a legacy of riotous laughter and chaotic family gatherings. I’ve only known her for the past two years, and she’s been battling one health malady after another since then, but she always did so with a quick, acerbic wit and a smile.

I will never forget sitting in her hospital room after she suffered a stroke and watching her rib the doctors and nurses and orderlies and janitors alike. No one left her hospital room that wasn’t smiling and laughing. That was Pat. She was funny and she always made the most of whatever situation she was in, no matter how bad.

When I got home that evening I sat down to check Facebook before calling it a night. By then, news of Robin Williams’ suicide had made its rounds and people were pouring out their sympathies and sadness.

As someone who struggles with depression and as a person who advocates for better mental health awareness, I took his death personal. I guess I just understand on a gut level how difficult the battle is and the sort of desperation and exhaustion that comes with the darkness of depression.

But it’s a funny thing, when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, the world has a way of just continuing to spin. I went to bed with a heavy heart and woke the next morning with an equally heavy one, but the sun had risen and the world was still going on… and it begs the question:  How do we, as believers, live fully in the abundant life of Christ when we are walking in that shadowy valley?

For most of yesterday I pondered the connection between these two seemingly unconnected people–that they both always left me clutching my side in laughter when I encountered them–and assumed that there must be some sort of divine meaning to it all. But the truth is, it was really nothing more than a coincidence that these two people would pass within the veil on the same day.  In reality, tens of thousands of people passed away Tuesday, but I only heard about two of them.

I finally had to realize that the answer I was seeking wasn’t locked in some mysterious secret I had to unravel, nor did it have anything to do with Pat or Robin Williams. The answer I was seeking rests solely in Jesus Christ.

It comes down to hope. Isn’t that what Jesus Christ was offering us all along?  While for generations people had sought to live in harmony with God through an increasingly complex list of “Do’s and Don’t’s”, Jesus simplified it for us:  The Kingdom of Heaven is here, he has brought it near, and we can live into it through the transformation of our hearts and souls.

The Do’s and Don’t’s had kept so many people out for so long. Everything that came our way was reason to lose hope, because it would prevent us from drawing close to God. Illness, brushing up against the wrong person, dressing the wrong way, being born into the wrong family, being born into the wrong nation… it seemed everything in our day-to-day life threatened to prevent us from knowing God.

But Jesus brought the Kingdom of Heaven near and gave us a new way to access it–for the first time we had a hope that we, too, could draw close to God. Now we could act in love and bring comfort to lepers.  Now, we could act in love and help the wounded man laying in the ditch. Now, we didn’t have to worry if we had followed the rules perfectly or performed our rituals with precision.  We had hope, finally. Christ was offering us access to God–unlimited, unchecked, unfettered access to a God who loves us and is constantly seeking us.

This hope was what we were clinging to as we gathered around Pat’s bed and prayed for her. We prayed for a miracle, but knew that the miracle might not come in the way we had hoped. We prayed for healing, and knew that it might not mean the healing of her body. We prayed for her and for her family and for each other because we had hope. We knew that no matter what the day brought, Pat would be fully alive because we have hope–hope because the Kingdom of Heaven is near, hope because Christ turned to a common criminal on the cross next to him and promised him paradise, even today.

The hope I cling to when I read about those who have lost their battle with destructive illnesses like depression is that Christ’s healing is complete and that God’s love and mercy is complete.

I have hope and that is what keeps me going, even when my heart is heavy.  I have hope and that’s why I don’t lose sight of the end goal, even when darkness sets in. I have hope because Christ’s grace was extended to even someone like me, so that I, too, could be transformed by his live and mercy and that I, too, could live in the Kingdom of Heaven, even now.

Living this abundant life doesn’t mean we don’t suffer. It doesn’t mean we are immune to sadness, or grief, or mourning. It doesn’t mean we won’t shed tears or feel pain… but it does give us the hope that these things are not all there is to life, that we are not doomed to suffer these hardships forever, that the Kingdom of Heaven is real, and that the perfect creation God began will be completed.

I have hope and because of this hope, I live fully in the light and love of Christ.

 

2 thoughts on “The Valley of the Shadow of Death

  1. This was wonderfully said and even though I cried as I read it the words gave me comfort and helped me to remember that hope we have in Jesus. Thank you.

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