I stand in front of the mirror and ask my reflection, “How could you have done that?” I think back to an incident yesterday where I was not at my best. As much as I want to, I can’t take back the words I said. Why did I let my emotions get the best of me again?
I’ve done hard work in the area where I messed up. I’ve read books. Talked to my counselor and good friends. Prayed about it and written reminders of truth in my journal. In this moment it feels as if it’s all been for nothing. Have you ever been there too?
Then I recall a moment from graduate school. My professor stands at the board and draws a series of hills and valleys. He says, “People think growth is a straight line and that if they fail, they slide down it all the way back to the bottom.”
He points at the mountain he’s just drawn and says, “But this is what growth actually looks like. It’s a series of peaks and valleys. When we mess up, yes, we experience a valley. But we need to remember that valley doesn’t mean we’re back at the beginning. We’re so much higher up than when we began.”
As I recall his words, my perspective starts to shift. Yes, I messed up again. But I recognized it sooner and made it right faster than I would have years ago. That is what it means to grow.
I think all of us are in a valley we never expected right now because of Covid-19. Our routines have been disrupted. The rhythms of our lives altered. We’re dealing with stress and fear we couldn’t have imagined two years ago. Here’s the reality: We’re going to mess up. Especially in the areas of our biggest struggles.
When this happens, we can tell ourselves that we have completely blown it. The progress we thought we’d made isn’t real. We can become our own worst critics. Or we can remember the mountain my professor drew.
David, the Psalmist and a man who experienced many peaks and valleys, said poetically…
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
David would likely have been thinking of the travelers who came to Zion on sacred pilgrimages. Their hearts were set on completing their journey. We’re also pilgrims in this world, and when we have setbacks it can be easy to believe we’ll never get where we’re going. But the promise of God is that it’s not all up to us. Grace gives us strength to get up and press forward when we stumble.
The original meaning of “the Valley of Baka” is “valley of weeping.” It can mean tears shed in sorrow but also in repentance. The valleys near David would have been desert-like and water was often scarce. To make such a valley a place of springs would mean to bring new hope to it. When we turn away from our struggles, we move toward life again. God redeems and restores, guides and gives us what we need, turns the dry places of our souls into places where good things can grow.
Another phrase I love in this passage is, “they go from strength to strength.” We, as humans, can so easily feel we go from weakness to weakness. But that isn’t true. Because of Jesus, even on our worst days, in our weakest moments, we are still moving onward and upward. We are still going Home.
So let’s be gentle with ourselves, especially now. If we find ourselves in a valley let’s remember we have not completely failed. We are not starting over. We are so much higher up and further along than when we began.
Let’s be gentle with each other too. We’ve all been through a lot as humanity. None of us are at our best right now, but I still believe we’re better together. As the saying goes, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Right now we could also say, “Be kind, for everyone you meet could be walking through a valley.”
We are not perfect. But we are making progress every day.
God, You say that Your strength is made perfect in my weakness, and I trust that You can redeem all things for good–even my mistakes. Thank You for being gentle with me. Please help me extend that same grace and gentleness to myself and others. Amen.
Question for Reflection
Reflecting on what my professor shared, take a moment to consider a valley you have walked through. What did you learn? How did you experience God’s presence and kindness in that season? Consider sharing a word of encouragement with a friend who is in a similar place today.
More for You
So many things in our world try to steal our true identity. Today on More than Small Talk, we’re having a conversation that will help you guard your heart, protect your mind, and hold on to truth. Listen in!
Need a little extra encouragement? Want to live with more peace and less pressure, more calm and less chaos, more worship and less worry? If so, What Your Soul Needs for Stressful Times is for you.