“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. . . Ye thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me. . . You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. . . I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Ps. 23
As Christmas approaches, my mind is preoccupied with the family gatherings scheduled for December. It is a privilege to prepare a feast for my loved ones and I take special care to make sure it is an expression of the love and appreciation I have for each of them.
I recently examined the 23rd Psalm in light of the phrase, “He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” When I was a little girl, my parents would often prepare me for a doctor or dentist’s appointment by promising me something special at the end. “If you’re a good girl, we’ll go out for ice cream when it’s done.” I kept my eye on the reward at the end and somehow it made it easier to go through the event.
In the same way, knowing that God has prepared a feast for us even while we are facing our enemies, gives us hope that we might otherwise not have. No one wants to go through the valley of the shadow of death. Those are the “Good Friday” moments of our lives where we experience darkness, doubt, fear, loneliness and death, whether real or imagined. Knowing that there is a feast, the resurrection, awaiting us on the other side doesn’t make it easier, but it gives us hope in the bleakness.
I was visiting my new granddaughter in Ontario when I had a “valley of the shadows” experience. I woke in the middle of the night and began to cough up bloody phlegm. Because of my cancer scare in the 2000s, any unusual physical symptoms send me back to those dark days and I begin to panic. My instincts are always to deny and hide, hoping I can dodge a visit to the doctor simply by waiting it out, but I knew I could not overcome this on my own.
The hours ticked away slowly as I waited for the dawn, knowing that my husband would also feed into my panic when I told him what was happening. I wanted to talk to my Dad, but he was two time zones away, so it was even earlier in Alberta. In the darkness I remembered all the lessons of the past: Fear Not, Be Healed, I Am With You, Peace Be Still. But these thoughts did not comfort me.
“I need to hear fresh words of assurance, Lord. Why this darkness? Why has my joy been taken? Who can deliver me from this bondage of fear and death? I can’t release myself, I need you to do it, but it’s dark, in the middle of the night, and I feel so very alone.”
I spent the day in the emergency ward at the hospital, going through a series of tests that revealed a treatable pneumonia. I had come through the other side, but the trauma of uncertainty and the ambiguity of illness took its toll. “What if. . . ” “Maybe. . .” All the questions I had fought through when I had cancer returned. They came like demons and attacked me, stealing the confidence and certainty I needed to heal.
As we were driving to our hotel I cried out to the Lord: “I can’t add any more worries to the catalog of fears I already carry.”
I CAN—those words stopped the conversation. “Come to me all who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am weak and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls” Matt.11:28-20.
“Come all of you who thirst, come to the waters; and you without money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” Is. 55:1
“If anyone is thirsty, let Him come to me and drink” Jn. 7:37.
Jesus was offering me a drink from the well–a feast as I came through the valley of the shadows. The joy of His love and presence filled my longing as He drew near to me in the sweetness of peace and love. My husband and I felt loved that night as we considered what it meant to be “carried” through the valley to the feast God had prepared for us on the other side.
Perfect love casts out all fears.