Walking in the Shadow of Death
I heard an account of a believer who lived in a country where it was illegal to be a christian. His greatest fear was prison. He could not imagine enduring any level of torture and he worried about his family if he faced jail time. This man felt sure of his faith enough to not give up but unsure of how far that would take him in the face of pressure to recant.
That faith DID get him a sentence behind bars and he had to endure many unbearable things. He had to literally face every fear he had imagined. What he said about being in prison has inspired me for years. He simply said that he now no longer had fear. His greatest fear was upon him and there was nothing left to fear. The courage to speak out boldly ensued in the absence of that fear.
He became MORE BOLD in the face of the thing he feared the most.
When you are walking in the shadow of death it is no longer the fear of death that you imagine nor the edge of it you’ve been dancing around. It is literally death so close, so ominously pressing that you are in it's shadow. It’s not an imagination anymore.
Can we find a place of security in the shadow of literal death?Death of a child, death of a spouse, death of a dream, death of a marriage... death of ______(fill in the blank).
David proclaimed “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, YOU ARE WITH ME.” Like Daniel in the dungeon, Joseph left to die in jail, like the three men facing the fire… like the martyr Stephan… all of these literally facing the reality of death. Some of this surrender came with miraculous endings. Some of that surrender came with physical death.
I recently felt like I seered a deeper understanding that Jesus literally conquered death into my very soul! Even in death there is life! Jesus could handle seeing the beginning to end and it caused Him to sweat blood. Even He asked in the Garden of Gethsamane to be released from this path WHILE at the same time submitting to the plan and process that had to occur. His love for us drove Him to the Cross. Why do we think that our hardships won't evoke the same strong emotions? The desire to give up, doubt, turn away, beg to be released?
I know that I have asked more than once to be released from the path towards the death I am facing. What I have feared most is ahead of me and it runs deep into the core of who I am. But as I have unpacked all of those layers to get to the core, I have shed so much fear. I have continued to discover over and over that it was fear itself and the stories wove around it, telling me lies about who I am, was really what had to die. It is still hard even while bringing so much freedom. I pray that you find this kind of tenacity and courage. It won't be something you find in another human and it won't be something you can do on your own.
I have spent decades unpacking. Often what surfaced I did not know that I was in need of seeing. Every hurt, real or perceived, has shed light into areas that needed His balm. That is what difficulties are meant to do! God does not allow hard things to destroy us but to destroy what is holding us captive. God is so gentle to expose our hearts incrementally. It is like having heart surgery. Surgery is never easy. But it is life saving. It is part of His heart to heal us and in no way expect perfection on our part.
When we believe particular stories about ourselves, it is easy to "gather evidence" in every day moments to feel like we are confirming them. A person can go a lifetime struggling to overcome a variety of beliefs about their value, their purpose and identity. Raw moments and hard things expose the foundation we have built our beliefs on. Dr Caroline Leaf says when our hearts are raw and bleeding is the moment neuropathways can be rewritten. You have to choose to substitute what you believe about yourself with truth at the very moment you most feel and believe what is not true. As the hurt inside is revealed, seek to discover the truth. It is normal to have to cycle through to discover the lies and equally normal to have to cycle through choosing to replace it mentally with the truth.
An example: Have you been rejected? It may be totally true or it may be how you perceive your world. Both are legitimate. But that does not mean you are not valuable. It may mean you are letting others define your value. How will you redefine your value? What will you base it on? What about betrayal? What about the very real mistakes you made that create a river of shame? There are answers to every hurtful belief. There is healing.
Don't be afraid to die to the painful, scary lies about who you are. Dare to fully live. There is a purpose to the pain. It must be felt, unpacked and released.
May you press inward to find this grace in your brokenness. May you find His light piercing into your dark spaces. May you receive His strength when you feel you can not take another step forward.