“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 NASB).
On my first long trip with my young Quarter Horse, Bert, we drove for over seven hours until we arrived at our destination. With six thousand vast acres of hills, canyons, and creeks, the ranch was a trail rider’s dream, with more land than we could explore during our four-night stay. The scenery was stunning, with every landscape possible in one setting. Rustic, vibrant clay and mixed shades of green abounded everywhere we looked.
Wasting no time, we saddled up and went off on the trails to enjoy our first ride. The terrain was diverse, which meant the horses had to pay attention to every step because of the ever-changing landscape—from rocky to clay and dirt, and then flat to hills and creeks and more. As we neared the end of our first day of riding, we decided to go through a lightly running creek nestled in between two hills.
As the Texas heat beat down on our backs, I decided it was time to lose a layer of clothing to cool down. While still sitting on the horse, I began to bring my head and arms out of my pullover so I could tie it around my waist. But my horse was positive the pullover oh so slightly touching his butt must be attacking him. Before I had a moment to realize what was about to happen, Bert started bucking, and it didn’t take long for my pullover and my butt to both land in the creek. I wanted to think I stayed on my horse for at least eight seconds, but my co-riders informed me it happened much faster than that.
There I lay in the middle of the creek—aching, but with no broken bones or major complaints aside from a bruised ego.
That day, I found myself literally lying hurt in a valley, struggling to get up and get back on my horse. In the Bible, we find that many battles take place in “the valley.” First Samuel 17:3 (ESV) describes such a scene: “The Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them.”
Each army stood on top of a hill facing the other, and then as battle time drew near, they met in the valley. The valley is where things got messy and dirty, where the work was done and the battle was either lost or won. But they had to go through the valley before they could move on to their next conquest. The territory was gained in the valley.
Valleys may be perceived as only places of blood, sweat, and tears; however, in the valley we find water flowing. Valleys are a source for refreshment, food, and a place to wash. Through the valleys and battles of our lives, we receive opportunities for growth. Growth requires substance and nutrients.
Psalm 65:13 (NLT) says, “The meadows are clothed with flocks of sheep, and the valleys are carpeted with grain. They all shout and sing for joy!” “Carpeted with grain” means there were blessings and provision as far as they could see. The valleys were considered the most fruitful places, and abundance flowed.
Valleys are a contradiction. They can bring memories of the hardest seasons and battles of our lives, where we shed both blood and tears. On the other hand, they represent abundance, growth, and blessings. To see the fruitfulness of the valley, we must till and cultivate the land. We must take the till to every season, every battle, every victory of our lives.
The valley reminds me of another contradiction—the cross. The cross is a vehicle of crucifixion and death, yet also the vehicle of life and salvation. The symbol that should remind us of death is also a representation of life. Maybe the valleys in our lives have always brought back images of battles, loss, and death, but it’s time to reclaim those images to illustrate the moments of growth, opportunity, and abundance.
Through each battle and valley, God delivers new territory and expansion. In what often seems like an exhausting and overwhelming season, God carpets our lives with overflowing blessing. May we, in the valley, see not only death but life—may we see the cross.
Lauren Clark lives in Dallas, Texas, where she moved five years ago to be closer to family and help plant a church. She has been married to Sean Clark for over seven years, and they have six dogs and one horse. Lauren’s passion is sharing personal stories and relating them to practical biblical truths that illustrate the freedom and encouragement to be found in the love of God. Read more from Lauren at LaurenJoyClark.com.
Photograph © Amy, used with permission