When you experience the mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual pain associated with the loss of a loved one, or the prospect of losing someone you love, Psalm 23 tells us you need not walk alone as you grieve and look for sunshine in the valley.
Picture You and Me in the Valley
As you stroll into a valley with me, we stop and look ahead through a long valley. The valley is filled with multi-colored trees, babbling brooks, and beautiful flowers. Then dark clouds move in and towards us. As they move towards us, their overshadowing power seems to bare the trees, dry up the brooks, and wilt the flowers.
We walk into the shadowed valley and our emotional and spiritual pain increases within us, sometimes unbearable. As we walk, several travelers come alongside us. They tell us they were sent to help us, to comfort us. They help ease our pain.
The shadow does not disappear, but with the help of these companions, we see the trees still have leaves, the brooks water, and the flowers radiant color. And we know at some point down the road, we will leave our new companions, and enter a new and glorious valley full of light.
The Communal Nature of Psalm 23
There is a communal aspect to Psalm 23. The shepherd reference is also used in the Old Testament to refer to God’s relationship to Israel, a people he helps emerge from captivity. The shepherd metaphor assumes an important communal function. Yes, “the Lord is my shepherd.” But he is also the shepherd of the sheep around you and me, the sheep with whom we interact.
He brightens the valley. The source of this light is the brightness of God’s love, mercy, and grace. But the rays of this light pass through the prism comprised of those walking alongside us. Psalm 23 is an affirmation of the psalmist’s faith in his God, no matter what happens in life. That faith is based on a relationship of hope with a God who is in control.
Ground Becomes Sacred Near the End
When someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness and said to be within months of death, the ground in that valley becomes holy ground. That’s the time when the light of faith, hope, and God’s love can become brighter, and alter the perspectives of all involved. If able, the patient has time to “tie up loose ends,” especially spiritual threads left dangling.
Family and friends have time to share stories and enjoy memories with the patient. They have an opportunity to find meaning in all that’s taking place.
Dying is an existential, spiritual, and communal process that involves more than the individual dying. It is a calling for us all to not only walk alongside others in that walk, but to be a reflection of THE shepherd’s guidance and care.
Psalm 23 tells us no one needs to walk alone as they grieve loss and look for sunshine in the valley.
Additional reading: How to Walk the Holiday Grief Path
Listen to God's Words
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lay down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
Also read: Proverbs 27:17, Ephesians 4:32, Hebrews 10:24-25
In the Words of Others
“The valley of the shadow of death holds no darkness for the child of God. There must be light, else there could be no shadow. Jesus is the light. He has overcome death.” D.L. Moody
“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.” Nelson Mandela
Think About It
Read Psalm 23 and consider how the psalm applied to your life in times of mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual distress.
During those times, did it feel like you were in a valley with dark clouds? Describe how you felt during those times in detail.
Who came alongside you? Did you ask the Lord to walk at your side, shining his light, showing the way?