“I don’t dwell on it.”
I often find myself thinking about my grandmother’s signature phrase. Grandma went through a lot in life – the Great Depression, WWII, and all the armed conflicts in between. She outlived seven of her fifteen children. When we asked how she coped, she simply said:
“I don’t dwell on it.”
Her words became my primary coping mechanism. When pain whispered, I refused to dwell on it, ignoring my tears and the feelings that went with them. I thought I knew her secret to strength: shove things aside and keep moving. Race ahead and pretend it didn’t happen. Refuse to dwell on it.
But then life caught up with me. Traumatic memories played on an endless loop in my mind, storming my mind and heart like a mighty army.
I realized that I had not only started to dwell on them, but to dwell in them.
I finally had to deal with my pain. Healing made its way through my carefully curated collection of secret wounds, and strength surged through me.
I realized Grandma had refused to dwell on things;
I had refused to deal with them.
I am learning to allow myself to feel the hurt when it hits because I know strength does not come from arbitrary barricades but from enforcing guardianship of my heart and mind. I now see that, while pain has been trying to invade, my God, my loved ones and my own strength have stood outside too, ready to help me fight if I would only let them in.
I am now striving to be the kind of person who deals with pain but who abides under the shadow of the Almighty, and who dwells among those who are amazing enough to love me through it.
“Faith begins where Reason sinks exhausted.” (Albert Pike)
To the untrained eye, it had to be the most unorthodox move in the armed history. The fact that a kid with no combat training had squared off against a giant even the king’s most would not challenge was one thing. But to do it without a shield? The battalion must have whispered to one another as he walked by. Hadn’t the king provided him with armor? But David won one of the most decisive victories in military history, all without the aid of a shield – to the untrained eye, at least.
So why did David reject the armor of his king? Perhaps, being as covenant-minded as he was, he recalled God’s words to Abraham as Saul’s men adjusted the ill-fitting armor:
“I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward.” (Genesis 15:1)
Perhaps he realized that with God as a shield, Saul’s armor was not so necessary after all.
Years later, David, now king, would find himself on the run from a son who had not only betrayed him but who had also amassed an army against him. Perhaps he thought back to that same moment with Goliath – the moment he had prepared for battle by laying aside his terrestrial shield, when he wrote in Psalm 3:3, “
Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”
As we move through life, we tend to collect pieces of armor to keep us safe from all manner of pain and injuries, physical and personal. Even so, even our greatest armor cannot always keep us safe. Still, as we face our greatest battles, we can cast our eyes to the hills and exchange our earthly shields for a divine one that will never fail not only to defend us but also to lift us in our hour of greatest need.
The sun shone high over the lone shepherd and his flock. From his vantage point in the valley, young David could see salivating wolves sprinkled across the mountains, casting deathly shadows across the pastures where his sheep grazed. However, the sheep continued to amble through the valley in search of tender grass, confident their shepherd would keep them safe. The eyes of their enemies were upon them but they were at rest and without fear. Their shepherd had led them through green pastures and had tended to their wounds.
As far as they were concerned, the worst the wolves could do was cast shadows.
What an image: wolves glaring down upon their prey, growling through jagged teeth, the very picture of fear. But as powerful as they seem, they are kept at bay, unable to attack, because the shepherd is stronger than their shadows. So the picture is one of peace. The sheep feast in the valley of shadows, gaining strength under the shepherd’s protection and their enemies can only look on in envy, powerless to do anything more.
David’s thoughts must have returned to that valley when he penned Psalm 23. Each valley in his life was darkened by a particular kind of deathly shadow. His family did not value him. The king who had once been a friend spent years trying to kill David. His wife scorned him as he worshipped. He fought battle after battle with a ragtag team of society’s rejected wild men.
But David had learned long ago what it meant to be a shepherd. He would bear the worst battles so his sheep could live in peace. He would walk through valleys beset by shadows of his enemies without fear because the Creator of heaven and earth was his Shepherd. Death could stand on the mountaintops and project its scariest image but David knew a shadow had no power over him. God’s light stood behind death, overshadowing and overpowering it.
Even though he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, God gave him strength in the presence of shadows.
As we walk through our own valleys, shadows may look down on us. Still, although darkness may be near, it is not yet upon us. To the Christian who has eternal life, death is but a shadow. It is merely a resting place before the final reward. Even though they may darken the valley momentarily, shadows are nothing to fear. We have a Shepherd who prepares goodness in the presence of evil. We may still encounter evil but that evil is only a shadow – an ephemeral mist that has no power in the presence of the Shepherd who guides us. When we walk on the path and follow Him, goodness and mercy will follow us. He will provide strength over shadows. In the end, death may overshadow but God will always overpower.