What is it about valleys that strike fear – or pity – into the heart of every Christian worth his hymnal? How many times have we all heard the dreaded words, “I’m working through a Valley Experience just now,” with the capital letters almost audible in the sentence?
What is it about valleys that conjure to mind images of barren flats, waterless wilderness, and horrible suffering; and why do these images bear little or no resemblance to the reality?
I am a Montana native – I’ve grown up surrounded by mountains. In the past few years I’ve taken up the sport, the adventure, of backpacking. I’ve made several trips through the Elkhorn Mountain Range near my hometown; and I must say, some of the most beautiful terrain I’ve seen has been in the valleys.
I’ve crossed 30-mile valleys full of beautiful, forested scenery; green, rolling hills; and cold, clear streams. Life is abundant in the valleys – birds, squirrels, dear, elk – even a few predators such as bears, cougars, and the (very occasional) wolf.
I’ve stood on mountaintops bordering both sides of those valleys, looking out at the beautiful country I crossed the day before while clutching my jacket around me to ward off the chill winds whipping around those same mountain peaks. Life is spare on top of mountains – few plants can grow at those altitudes, and fewer animals can survive on what little food there is.
Granted, the peaks provide the farthest – and clearest – view around, but they are the hardest to reach. The valleys, on the other hand, are easy to survive in – though the view is often obstructed by trees and undergrowth.
It seems to me that – in the words of my church’s small-group coordinator – we’ve got our metaphors mixed. It seems to me that the mountaintops should be associated with times of clarity that only come after great struggles to reach the top; whereas valleys should be associated with times of abundant life as we continue in the path God has for us – trusting Him to guide us though we can’t see all that far ahead.