By Caryn Rivadeneira
I live 16 miles west of Chicago. To find anything even remotely close to a “valley,” I need to head another 20 or so miles west toward the Fox River, to an area known as the Fox Valley. That we call this a valley would make anyone from a mountainous region laugh out loud. Because the Fox Valley essentially marks a spot where flat (former) prairie dips toward the mighty Fox and then immediately rises on the other side.
It is lovely. And, after driving through miles and miles of the flat doldrums of suburban strip malls (or farm land—depending on which direction you’re coming from), it’s a welcome scene. One that beckons a good look around and a deep-breathed, “Ah, beautiful.” But still, a real valley it ain’t.
As long as you weren’t being swept away by the river itself, if you were in the Fox Valley, you’d be fine. You’d never worry about getting up or getting out. You wouldn’t panic about being stuck there, too worried to face a climb up and over. If you wanted to get out of the valley, you’d simply walk up a slight hill. You might be a tad winded (maybe) when you got to the “summit,” but then you’d just get on with your life. As if nothing happened at all.
This is how I know the Fox Valley is different from other valleys in more than geography alone. When the Psalmist wrote, “Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Ps. 23:4), he knew a different valley. When he lifted his eyes to the mountains, wondering where his help came from (Ps. 121:1), he knew a different valley. And when he declared, “My help comes from the Lord,” that was a different kind of valley.
While I live hundreds of miles from any “real” valley, I know these valleys well. I’m guessing no matter where you live, you do too. These are the valleys we find ourselves in when life curves sharp and fast and we lose our footings, tumble down hillsides, into a sort of life-abyss. These are the valleys when our hurt and fear press down so hard that we can hardly lift our heads to seek help from the hills around us. These are the valleys where the darkness lingers, where the shadows creep and seep into our souls.
These are the valleys in which treachery is the only way out. In which escape means a steep, jagged climb—when we have no strength. In which rescue means facing dangers—when we have no courage. In which salvation means trusting God—when we feel forsaken. These are the valleys no one wants to be in.
And yet, what would our lives look like if we never faced that treachery, that rough climb or that salvation? Where would we be as women? As leaders? As children of God? Do we really want our lives to be without valleys—or with only Fox Valleys—where we never face hardship or have to search hilltops for God’s rescue? Do we want our lives to never be shaken or changed?
I don’t think so. A simple read through the Psalms will show you that the valleys are what shaped David’s life as a leader and a beloved child of God. A wise example for all leaders to follow.