When my mom died, I was sure I’d met my quota for hardship for the rest of my life. One devastating hardship should be sufficient for the course of a lifetime, right? Because really, hardship should surely be a tasting, not an all-you-can-eat buffet. Nobody wants refills on hardship. Just one serving, if I must, please and thank you. One serving to build character and gratitude. Not a single portion more.
I’ve unknowingly been thinking this way my entire life. And I was finally brought to my knees from the exhaustion from the expectation of ease. Emotionally drained because life is hard, continues to be hard, and never holds the promise of not being hard.
You can understand my shock when I came to the revelation that I, in fact, had not been taken off of His hardship list despite my persistent pleading. I was deeply disappointed. Exhausted. And angry even. Angry with God because He didn’t smooth my path. He didn’t lay the pieces the way I wanted him to. And He didn’t remove any rocks. He led me to the valley. Gave me a shove. And then abandoned me. Or that’s how I felt. But we can feel something and still recognize it’s not the truth. Thankfully, our feelings don’t dictate the truth. They can enhance it or distort it. But they can’t change it.
Now, I always believed God would be waiting for me on the other side. But what if I never made it to the other side? I’ve always envisioned God cheering me on from afar while I’m smack dab in the middle of the valley. And I’ve imagined His disappointment when I don’t make it to Him, thinking He was only present at the end. With conditions. Waiting for me after I’ve made it through all the heartache and the pain. I believed He led me to a path and then let me walk, stumble, and fall on my own. Then, He flew over the valley to meet me on the other side.
In reality, God is there every step of the way. He is with us in the valleys of life. And He certainly doesn’t shove us into the darkness because He rescues us from it. Not by moving us out of it, but by invading it. Permeating it. Shining light down and around it, lighting our path along the way. Guiding us with the Spirit, not removing the rocks, but providing a steady arm to rely on and move forward with. Reliable, steadfast, and faithfully present.
He’s not waiting on the other side. And you don’t have to make it to Him. Because He comes to you. He doesn’t demolish the mountains or the valleys. He teaches you to climb over them and venture through them. How to be unafraid in His presence knowing that the valley trembles before the One who walks beside you. He holds your hands and steadies your steps. He promises His presence and love, not the absence of hardship.
When we step into valleys, we focus on the mountains around us. And we lose sight of the presence beside us. But God doesn’t disappear. We just stop seeing him. Because we stop looking. We fear our circumstances. We dwell in our feelings. And in doing so, we limit our vision, but we don’t change the scenery itself. We just change our view of it. And it’s in these moments that I find immense gratitude that we have a God who walks before us and beside us.
And God doesn’t weigh the scales and decide whether or not your hardship is weep-worthy. He just weeps with you. For you. Beside you. And reminds you that He too knows great hardship. And it’s because of the hardship He endured that our own hardships have an expiration date. An end.
The mountains can be intimidating and terrifying. And God doesn’t promise to remove them. But He promises that His goodness and loving kindness will follow you through, every step of the way. Regardless of whether you see it or not. His presence is not dependent on your vision. It’s dependent on His unchanging character. Even when we don’t feel it. Even when we can’t see it. He doesn’t move away from you. He steps closer to you and sends His goodness and love to follow you all of your days.
And this is sufficient for a lifetime. He’s not only at the finish. He’s at the beginning. The middle. And the end. And every step in between. So, when you’re in the valley—at the beginning, middle, or end—don’t forget to look around and see who it is that walks beside you, before you, and behind you. And I promise you, the view will be worth it.