Somewhere along the way I have come to look on Psalm 23 as scripture to be read at a funeral. It is often printed on the back of a brochure, often read as the scripture. For that reason I have come to think of the one who has died as the one walking through 'the valley of the shadow of death', the one who has found comfort in this Psalm.
While this is true, while many people find comfort in the knowledge of God being with them in that valley, I am seeing a different 'view' of the valley these days.
Over the last months, years, I have watched as family, friends, acquaintances grieve for their family, friends or acquaintances. I watch as they walk deep into the 'valley of the shadow of death'. They walk into that valley suddenly without any warning. Or they may walk slowly with someone who slowly is overtaken in the valley. But for the ones left here the valley goes on and on and on..... It seems to have no end, it seems to become deeper, darker, more lonely as the days go by.
I watch from the upper bank. I so want to throw down a rope, a ladder, build an elevator, do something to bring these ones I care about out of the valley. I feel helpless, guilty for watching and not 'doing' anything, carrying on with my normal living. I call out once in awhile trying to bring hope and encouragement. I love them..... but what can I do.....
The Psalm continues: '...I will fear no evil for You are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me...."
Ah.... they are not alone down there. God IS with them. And the rod and staff? not instruments of pain or rebuke but gentle, kind instruments for guiding, for pointing the right way, for hedging in and around all the valley's rocks and pitfalls.
One day, one day..... these friends will find a little more light penetrating the dark. One day they will find the walls of the valley are not quite as high. One day they will venture into a different pasture where there is green grass, where the waters are still, they will find a new normal.
In the meantime.... I ache for them, I ask God for them, I struggle to find words or ways to love them. I wait with them......