I picked up a habit as a kid: always keep the doors locked, and closet doors closed at bedtime. My greatest fear was that something or someone could come out of my closet and come into my house and kill me. This sounds very morbid, but it's one of those "you can never be too sure" habits that still lingers with me today as I make sure my doors are locked and that closets are closed before I go to bed each night even if it is 3:00 am.
There's something about the darkness that bothers me. Even at 22, it's scary. I remember going on this new ride with my friends, Verbolten, at Busch Gardens. We were maybe 15. One thing to know about me is that I'm not super big on rollercoasters. The sinking feeling in my stomach is not pleasant. Plus, I'm always paranoid that something horrible will happen while I am on the rollercoaster.
This ride required us to go into the dark for a while. The premise is this Hansel and Gretel forest where it's super dark and creepy. And it goes fast. I go onto the rollercoaster with my friends, and I'm nervous but trying to play it cool. "As long as my friends are there, it will be fine, right?" Somewhat right. We went into the little simulated forest, and it was good, super fun until it stops us in the middle of the tunnel. And everything and everyone gets super quiet. The silence in the darkness is horrifying. You're waiting for something to happen or someone to jump out at you. Then the creepy cackling from an older woman happens and the howling wind and other sounds that are not very pleasant at night. I don't remember exactly how I reacted, but I'm sure that I closed my eyes and was afraid. I couldn't see my friends although I knew they were there.
So why in the darkness do we find that David is the opposite of afraid. In fact, he tells us in Psalm 23:4, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
He is guiding him through the darkness. But there's also another thing: it's just a shadow. This entire time I saw the word shadow and thought it was some metaphor for something. I didn't actually believe that it was a shadow.
Here's what I pictured: the darkest place possible, where no light exists whatsoever. He's walking through being guided by God because he knows "The Lord is my Shepherd." But a shadow is just what occurs when an object is blocking the light. So this tells me that this mountain of death blocks the light, but the light is still present in David's life. Just as I sit underneath this tree in a shadow to keep cool, there is warm sunlight that still hits me. It may seem as though the darkness of the shadow is the only thing you can see, but there is still light. It hasn't gone away and honestly doesn't plan on leaving (of course, until the sun sets, but even then, the light is still shining somewhere else, and the moon provides me a different kind of light)
My question to David now is: when did you realize that it was just a shadow? When were you able to look beyond the darkness and see the light would always be there?
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it - John 1:4-5 NIV
David's proclamation about this shadow of death proves something to us: nothing has power over Jesus. His life is the light of all mankind. Not the mankind that has everything together, not the mankind who doesn't deal with life, but all mankind. The believer and the non-believer. So despite how dark the darkness may seem, Jesus provides light for all mankind that cannot be overcome. The beautiful thing about this verse is that it notes darkness has not overcome it. That means the light is still doing its job and will never fail even when I think it has. Just as his love is unfailing, so is his light.
The shadow of _________ (whatever your shadow might be) can very easily keep us from believing that we deserve to be in the light. It even keeps us from believing that there is any light at all. Shadows also make things seem larger and scarier than they are. I'm sure that valley, where the shadow of death had been cast, was highly intimidating. But David remembered his shepherd, his guide, and the places that he had taken him. He remembered the character of God and knew that even in this seemingly dark place, his shepherd was with him as well and had already prepared a seat in the presence of his enemies like death. This shadow even has nothing against him.
So the question then becomes: do we know the character of our Father like David? Can we go through the valley of the shadow of __________ and remind ourselves that we are not alone? Some of us would quickly say yes and mean it. Others like myself might say yes but still have some unbelief resting in our hearts. Many might say no. Regardless of your answer, it is important to know that you are not alone, just like I was sitting on that roller coaster with other people. The one reason why I didn't have complete meltdowns on rollercoasters is because of the people I went with. My friends were with me. So even though the fear never went away, I had a community that was with me.
David might not have had a community, people walking alongside him, but he still had his Father, his guide, and honestly, that was enough for him to keep going.
After realizing this, I visualize this scripture differently. I don't see him wavering in fear through this valley. I see him recognize not only the darkness but also the light. He can confidently walk through the valley because he knows the light is with him. The light has never stopped shining, just as the blood of Jesus has never stopped working in your life. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that has power over it.
Even in John, as Jesus is nearing the end of his life and Pilate suggest he can do something to speak on behalf of his innocence, he reminds himself and Pilate that nothing can overcome him.
Then Jesus said "You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin" - John 19:11
Even the darkness of the acts of the Jewish officials could not keep him from shining his light.
The shadow is this beautiful reminder to us about the empty tomb and Jesus dying on the cross. His death was very much real, but it was only a shadow of death. His light still shines even in that sorrow and death. That's why there's an empty tomb. To remind us all, the believer and the non-believer, that whatever may seem to be overtaking us is really just a shadow. He defeated death, and he defeated our sin. So our struggles are merely shadows, not the real thing. Yes our issues are real, and they impact us every day. But even in the darkness, light overcomes.
I haven't been on that rollercoaster in years, let alone gone to a theme park. But, whenever I do, I can remind myself that there is still light present even though I can't see it right away. And the creepy soundtracks are just that--creepy soundtracks.
Even as I sit in a shadow, where the leaves are just beginning to grow back on this tree, light still hits my keyboard, fingers, and my skin to remind me of its presence. The clouds and the trees may keep it from shining directly on me at times, but that doesn't mean it's gone. That reminder is how I progress forward in life, how I can go on the rollercoaster without having a complete meltdown because I know the light is always there.