Life has been a little difficult for me lately. There have been a lot of good things going on, but there have been a few bad things as well (really, there have not been bad things going on as much as there has been a bad spirit hanging around, a spirit that is likely due to fatigue).
My mentors call difficult periods like this “battles”. It is a term I really like, one which I think accurately describes the nature of these periods (they are battles, conflicts with whatever force is opposing the will of God I am trying to live out) as well as the possibility of good things following these battles (whenever there is a battle there is the potential for victory, after all).
A more common term, though, is valley or valleys. This is the term I’ve been hearing ever since I was a kid. I remember people in my home church talking about “going through the valley” or “going through valleys”. That was how they described difficult periods. That was the analogy they used. The good times were the “mountaintop experiences” and the tough times were the valleys.
That is a logical description or analogy. The height difference of mountains and valleys seems to match these times and the feelings they produce; mountains are highs, like the good times, and valleys are lows, like the tough ones. Not only so, but we also have reference to a particularly-ominous sounding valley in a well-known passage of Scripture.
So the analogy works to some degree, and I accordingly find myself using it. Just today, in fact, as I was driving around and thinking about what I’ve been going through, the valley analogy came to me (or out of me, I guess). “I’m walking through a valley,” I said to myself. “I wonder how long it will be until I make it to the other side.”
As I thought about that, though, I was reminded about a statement made by a pastor friend of mine more than a decade ago. This friend (who is now the minister at Ontario Christian Church; so happy for him!) was at my congregation in Crestline, Ohio, doing a revival message for us. During that message, he said something to the affect of, “We all like to stay on top of the mountain, but the valley is where the food is.” I’m paraphrasing his statement there, but I believe I have that final phrase right. “The valley is where the food is.”
This made a lot of sense to me then and still makes sense to it now. The valley may seem like a “low” to us. It may be a legitimate low, as well. But it is also the place where the food is, where we find sustenance and nourishment. High as the mountaintops are, they don’t have those things. No wonder, then, that we can’t stay in those places for long. No wonder that God sends us back down into the valley far more often than we’d like.
To be honest, I don’t know what the application of all this is. Change our analogies or terms? Probably not. Enjoy the valleys? Avoid the mountaintops? That’s probably not it, either. My guess is that it has something to do with appreciating what the valleys have to offer, something to do with trying less to cross them as quickly as possible and more with trying to find a way to make a living in them. Valleys can be the valley of the shadow of death, but they can also be the place of food and growth. Maybe they can be both at the same time, and so maybe they aren’t as bad as they seem. Or should I say, “They are not half-bad”?