One of our favorite things about where my husband, two dogs, and I live is our close proximity to the beautiful badlands of North Dakota. On the occasional free weekend, the four of us enjoy venturing out onto some public land and getting a good hike in. Since our first trip out, I have learned what to expect. However, that first trip was a learning curve for me.
As we prepared to go out, we donned our hiking boots and hats, and applied our sunscreen. We filled our heavy-duty hunting pack with water and food to fuel our bodies. When we got out to the spot where our hike would begin, we parked the car and were filled with energy and excitement for the day ahead of us.
We started out on the top of a large butte. As we walked the top of the butte we saw beautiful landscape stretched out in front of us. I enjoyed being on the high ground and having a great vantage point of the valley below. As we looked out, my husband pointed to another butte in the distance and indicated that he wanted to go there and see what was beyond that point. Still filled with energy and excitement for what lay ahead, I enthusiastically agreed. As we descended into the valley, it didn’t take long for me to realize I would be leaving behind the leisurely approach we took with our walk atop the butte.
Venturing down the steep, greasy cliff, my footing was less sure, and I lost traction at times. In the valley, the vegetation was thicker, making it more difficult to navigate. The air was stagnant, causing me to take off the jacket I started the day wearing. If I didn’t watch my steps, I would occasionally step on one of the many cacti that littered the ground.
To make matters worse, I soon discovered that ticks preferred the valley, and I looked down to see dozens of these tiny, blood-sucking critters crawling up my legs. The journey was much less pleasant in the valley than it was atop the butte. Here, the sun beat down and the vantage point was much more narrow than being on higher ground. As we neared the butte my husband wanted to check out, we exerted all the energy we had left to make our climb to the top.
When we reached the top and looked out into what lay ahead of us, I knew that all of the challenges of the valley were well worth it. We had a gorgeous view of what was ahead and a new perspective of what we just conquered behind us. We really only had time to stop for a drink and small snack before my husband said again as he pointed across the next valley, “Now I want to check out that butte.” I can only imagine that the look on my face told him how I felt about venturing through the next valley. Now I knew the struggles that lay ahead, and I would have been much more content staying atop the butte. In response to my hesitation he said, “Just one more butte.” So we descended again, this time with a bit less energy and optimism.
This valley held much of the same challenges as the last, but our struggle was exaggerated by the heat of the sun. As it radiated off the nearby cliffs, it beat down on us with an intense heat that was multiplied by the the fact that a breeze could not make its way through the valley with cliffs on all sides. When we reached the top of the next butte, my husband spoke those infamous words again, “Just one more butte.”
And so the day went on in this pattern. The more valleys we ventured through, the more I became numb to the challenges that lie within them. The ticks that made me scream in the first valley, I now simply plucked off my clothing in disgust. I didn’t want to struggle through each valley to make it to “one more butte,” however, I trusted my husband and knew the journey would be worth it when looking out from the higher ground. The last valleys of the day felt like they would break us. We were out of water, our skin was crisp from the sun, breathing became a labor of its own, our cramping legs made each step feel impossible, and the last climb to the top of the butte took every last ounce of strength we had left.
The Pattern of Suffering
This was the same pattern for my husband and me as we suffered through infertility.
I would imagine it’s also the pattern you’ve experienced in your suffering. We’ve each left that first butte and gone with energy and confidence into that first valley only to be met with challenges and roadblocks we never thought we’d overcome. We’ve each climbed that last incline to the top of the butte with confidence that we were being led out of our suffering only to hear the Lord say “One more butte.”
As he’s walked with us through the valleys of our suffering, we have learned to cope with the challenges, we have grown from fearing to accepting, and parts of the journey were only accomplished as the Lord carried us when we were too numb to walk on our own. And, of course, we all have longed to leave behind the valleys and stay put atop the higher ground.
For my husband and me, our lowest valleys have been those along the journey through infertility. When we thought the Lord had brought us to the end, we were led into valley after valley again. Along the way, we saw others who were able to stay put atop the higher ground as we descended with anger, frustration, and blind jealousy back into the valley of suffering. As I look back from higher ground, now with better perspective, I can see that those who “got to stay atop the higher ground,” those who didn’t have to descend into the valley of infertility, had valleys of their own suffering through which they had to venture.
God's Presence in Suffering
The Lord does not stand atop the butte and watch his beloved stagger through the valleys alone. Reassurance of this is found in Isaiah:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." (Isaiah 43:1–3)
Whatever your personal valley of suffering contains, the Lord walks with you:
- He ventures through the valley of suffering with the couple longing to grow their family but are grieving yet another miscarriage.
- He ventures through the valley of suffering with the woman who watches her aging parent lose her independence and freedom as her body no longer allows her to experience the activities she once loved. Or his mind no longer permits him to carry on the conversation with the intellect he once had.
- The Lord ventures through the valley of suffering with the parents who watch helplessly as depression steals the joy of their once active child.
- The Lord ventures through the valley of suffering with the young mom who feels she has been lost in the apparent monotony of diaper changes, school lunches, her spouse’s work dinners, laundry, and dog messes.
- The Lord ventures through the valley of suffering with the man who works tirelessly to provide the life he wants for his family while being unable to make ends meet.
- The Lord ventures through the valley of suffering with the parents who hear their child tell them he is challenging his gender identity and sexuality.
- The Lord ventures through the valley of suffering with the elderly man who has buried his wife, sees his children and grandchildren less and less, and is not sure where his relevance lies anymore.
- The Lord ventures through the valley of suffering with the lonely man or woman who wants to be in the role of spouse, but cannot seem to find a counterpart.
- The Lord ventures through the valley of suffering with the parents who desperately watch their child miss developmental milestones not knowing where to turn for answers.
Christ Suffered for Us
Only one walked through the valley of suffering alone. Christ hung on the cross, separated from the Father so his people would never have to be. Christ suffered alone so his beloved would never suffer alone. Hebrews 2:10 says:
“For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
Not only does the Lord walk with us in our suffering and strengthen us with his Word and Sacraments, he also surrounds us with pastors, mentors, and brothers and sisters in Christ to lift us up and encourage us in His promises. 2 Corinthians 1 encourages Christians to comfort and encourage one another:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4)
As citizens of a sinful world, suffering is our inescapable reality. Hope can only be found in the Lord.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35, 37–39)
Find encouragement as you walk through the valley of suffering with Hope When Your Heart Breaks by Michael Newman.