Walking with God in the Valley
It’s amazing how quickly a song evokes a memory—the feelings and thoughts of a particular place and moment in the past.
The song “Christ Is Mine Forevermore” did that for me on a recent Sunday morning, especially these lines:
Mine are tears in times of sorrow Darkness not yet understood Through the valley I must travel Where I see no earthly good But mine is peace that flows from heaven And the strength in times of need I know my pain will not be wasted Christ completes his work in me
The first time I heard these lyrics several years ago, I was in the thick of an 11-year struggle with infertility (a trial I discussed in this video released alongside Shaped by Suffering, coauthored with Ken Boa; I also discuss my story briefly in the book itself).
Watch Jenny’s video testimony here: https://www.youtube.com/embed/_CTOaKNnEn8
“Darkness Not Yet Understood”
At the time, I had no idea when or if my valley would end. “Darkness not yet understood” aptly described my situation.
Even now, I can feel the deep ache I felt then, as years of praying, waiting, and waiting some more stacked up. I still feel the sting of the comments as I’d meet someone new, and the inevitable question would come: “Do you have any children?”
“No, not yet,” I would calmly reply with a half-smile that belied the pain hovering beneath the surface.
As I approached my late 30s, the answer to the “any kids?” question became simply, “No … we don’t.” It’s not that my long-held hope for a child had died completely, but I no longer presumed. I knew the “not yet” might very well become “not ever.” I was preparing for that possibility more and more.
Questions of this nature were even harder in church. It’s a place where we often unintentionally hold up very good things (like marrying and raising the next generation) as integral to our identity and significance, rather than prioritizing the one best thing: a life lived in line with God’s calling on your life—whatever that looks like. In responding to others both in and outside the church, I alternated between wanting my infertility to be better understood and wishing it were irrelevant in how people viewed me as a woman. I am complete without a child, I would often remind myself.
“The Valley I Must Travel”
An unfulfilled longing to have children is one of the most difficult journeys a woman can walk. While busy mothers may look longingly at women who have the personal time and space to pursue their own dreams and desires—not to mention taking a shower and eating meals without interruption!—the silence of a household devoid of youthful activity can be deafening and depressing for a woman with infertility. Weekends and holidays may be wide open, but this freedom can feel lifeless rather than life-giving.
The future often stretches out before a woman with infertility not as a plain of lush living, but as a dry desert, unending sameness, bereft of new life to tend, water, and watch grow.
There’s a reason they call it barrenness.
The void, the lack, is often palpable on a daily, even hourly, basis. The sight of a family, a pregnant woman, or even a school bus, can be a painful, unwanted reminder of the lack.
At the same time, as with any trial or journey through grief, there are good days and bad days. With infertility, the processing of the grief is unique, occurring repeatedly in intervals, interspersed with moments of hope. For me, submitting this area of my life to God wasn’t a once-and-done deed; it was something I had to do over and over again. And some days, I was truly content, trusting that God’s vision and plan for my life was better than my own; other days, I struggled for the energy and motivation just to get out of bed.
Submitting this area of my life to God wasn’t a once-and-done deed; it was something I had to do over and over again.
I don’t describe the experience of infertility to draw attention to my particular struggle, but because it’s a special type of trial—a grief for a life that never was—that is difficult to understand for those who haven’t gone through it. Trite assurances, suggestions, and advice often make the pain of the trial worse.
At the same time, infertility bears similarities to other forms of suffering, especially those that involve the lack of something we wish we had. The unfulfilled longing may be for a spouse, a job, restoration of physical health, or just about anything that we desire keenly. A lack of fulfillment of that desire can lead to anger and bitterness. The pain can easily morph into self-pity and, if we’re not careful, turn us inward on ourselves as we “wallow” in the feeling of being alone.
But in the valley God wants to meet us—to draw our gaze upward, off ourselves and onto Him. It’s in a valley “where [we] see no earthly good” that He can transfer our hope from this world to the next. It’s there that we can come to know we are never alone, that He is with us (Psalm 23:4).
And although no other person may understand our trial fully, He does. Not only does He know our every thought and desire better than we know them ourselves (1 John 3:20), but He Himself has been there: Christ suffered in a human body. He is a sympathetic high priest who doesn’t stand far off from our pain, but who knows what it is to suffer and who draws close to the broken-hearted and the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
“Christ Completes His Work in Me”
I can testify to the truth of the words in the song: He does not waste the pain of the valley; He uses our pain to shape us for Christlikeness. Here are a couple of ways He shaped (and continues to shape) me.
1. He showed me my identity.
As I look at my now one-year-old daughter, I realize the temptation for a woman to root her identity in her children and family. While I am stereotyping to a degree, this is a temptation uniquely powerful for females (traceable to our biology), while men on the whole tend to struggle more with finding their identity in their work. Either way, the temptation is to place our identity in our performance or success in a particular arena of life rather than in God alone.
The fierce love I now have as a mother for my child should not rival my love for Jesus Christ. He must be more to me than all the world—even the people in it who are most precious to me (Luke 14:26). He Himself must be my “very great reward” (Genesis 15:1); even a child in answer to a decade-long prayer cannot be the reward that Christ Himself promises to be.
If I had had kids on my own timetable, I never would have learned this lesson of Christ’s preeminence to the depth that I did. And this does not diminish my love and joy over my daughter—rather, it enhances it.
As Ken Boa writes (and these words apply to children and other people as well, not only spouses): “If you love Jesus more than you love your spouse, you will love your spouse more than if you loved your spouse more than Jesus.”
I can say I truly love Jesus far more today because of my suffering. My identity is anchored more firmly in Him than it would have been otherwise (and I pray it continues to be so).
I can say I truly love Jesus far more today because of my suffering.
2. He transferred my hope.
Protracted earthly struggles, whether they’re lifelong or simply seem long, have a way of calling our attention beyond the short term. When the near horizon appears dark, we either succumb to that darkness or we look past it. When we look beyond the horizon of our trial, we can see that the light of Christ shines into eternity. It’s a light that the darkness of this world—with all its evil and sufferings—cannot overcome (John 1:5). The darkness may remain with us for a time, but the light is eternal, as is our hope.
One of the most difficult things about any earthly struggle is its impact on our view of the future. With infertility specifically, the future can feel cut off or hopelessly empty. Thoughts like, “Who will take care of us in old age?” and “To whom will we pass on our family photos and other keepsakes?” loom large in the minds of those without family or children. Often without even realizing it, we place our hope in the things of this life, and family and children are often at the center of those hopes.
I remember one day when God specifically spoke to my hopelessness and my worries about the future. My significance and legacy, He showed me, are not about ensuring my name and DNA get passed along. They’re about making His name known. Above all, they’re about loving Him and others—the two Great Commandments; in other words, investing in the things He declares important.
My significance and legacy are not about ensuring my name and DNA get passed along. They’re about making His name known. Above all, they’re about loving Him and others … investing in the things He declares important.
My feelings didn’t necessarily change in that moment, but I sensed God transferring my hope and significance from this earthly kingdom to His kingdom. In the heavenly kingdom, the relationships that matter are those based on my new heredity in Christ, not those based solely on my biological DNA.
“Pain Will Not Be Wasted”
We’re all pilgrims, wayfarers, passing through this comparatively brief world on the way to our eternal home. If you’re going through a trial right now, may you know He will not waste your pain. And may you be able to sing these lyrics with me, rejoicing that He has given us the gift of life in Him—the greatest possible blessing, which no one and nothing can take away:
Come rejoice now, O my soul For His love is my reward Fear is gone and hope is sure Christ is mine forevermore
And mine are keys to Zion city Where beside the King I walk For there my heart has found its treasure Christ is mine forevermore
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