Sometimes it’s easy for us to proclaim that God is good, to know and experience God’s goodness, to sing words like these. But it’s not always easy. Sometimes it feels like we’re experiencing anything but the goodness of God. Sometimes it feels more like we’re in the “valley of the Shadow of Death” as David puts it, and yet we don’t feel like the good shepherd is leading us.
Many of you know that in a few weeks, I’ll have surgery for a tumour in my adrenal gland. Waiting for the diagnosis last fall felt like one of those shadow-filled valleys for me. Labour Day weekend was when things really intensified with one final emergency room visit in a year filled with emergency room visits. That one felt like a turning point and brought me some hope for the first time in a while that there would be a diagnosis. I remember coming to church the first Sunday after that and standing up when we started to sing and praying, “God, whatever happens now, I know that with you I’m going to be okay.” And the Holy Spirit whispering to me, “What if you’re not okay? Will we be okay if you’re not okay?”
That question was really hard for me. I thought a lot about prosperity gospel, about our desire to believe that if God loves us, it means everything in our life will be not just okay, but blessed. But we can be faithful and believe that God wants to heal us and not be healed. Not have broken relationships restored. Still suffer with mental illness. Still wait for unanswered prayer.
AND YET God is still good.
During those fall months, going to church was hard. I was on medication that meant I just didn’t sleep, so I felt awful a lot of the time, but sometimes I woke up feeling physically okay but just couldn’t come to church because I couldn’t handle pretending that everything was okay and I didn’t know how to talk about it not being okay. I couldn’t sing about God’s goodness when I felt like I wasn’t experiencing any of it.
Now, looking back, I see that God wasn’t absent. God taught me so much about who he is and who I am. God taught me anew what it means to rely fully on him. I learned about the beauty of being in community. I learned to let others help me, the beauty of having others pray for me. I learned that God isn’t just good when our lives are going well, but God is good all the time. I learned that maybe the only way for us to know this truth is to experience the shadow-filled valleys that life inevitably brings us.
I wonder if Lent is an opportunity for us as a church to learn this too. At Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, as a cross is put on the forehead of churchgoers, the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return” are spoken over each person. Maybe we need that reminder of our utter inability to save ourselves, our inability to do anything outside of God. And God uses the hard experiences in our lives to teach us this lesson too. And Lent also gives us a picture of who God is, of what God’s self-sacrificial love looks like.
It’s Sunday today. If you were in a church today, you probably sang a couple of songs about who God is, proclaiming things like God’s goodness. Maybe those were easy for you to sing. Maybe they were incredibly hard. Maybe you feel like you’re in the shadow-filled valley now. If that’s the case, remember that God is there in the valley. He’s waiting to show you who he is.