Little golden hair in the half-way sun. I stepped forward into the scattered shadows of the Valley – really tiptoeing, more like. The broad space of the mountainous summits that I so loved was behind me now, and far above this low place. Boulders and broken rocks were strewn every which way like a maze of bones – the bones of the great mountains, protruding jaggedly and threatening to bite at me like snarling teeth.
I would not have chosen this way, but it was chosen for me.
I remember the way I looked into the Shepherd’s ruddy face on that early spring morning that seemed so far past now, and the way my heart welled up when I saw Him smile. It was the light in His eyes, it was the compelling warmth of His love that was more real than anything, that invited my wholehearted “yes” when He asked if I would come with Him to the High Places. How could I have said no? I had learned in the expanse of that flowered meadow that I was made for Him, made for His companionship, and that there couldn’t be another more lovely and kind than He. He said He Himself would escort me up – up the High Places of love.
The memory swirled away into the shadowy fog that clung to this sunken Valley. My foot caught on a rock that I could not see in the dim light, and I stumbled forward, landing with a hard thud. My breath hissed through my teeth as I could suddenly feel the rolling of liquid down my leg. The stone had drawn blood – and enough of a sting to make me ball my fists and think twice about having ever come here. I rose and dusted myself off from the dirt, making my best effort to bandage the wound with a strip of cloth from my own skirt. I ambled forward, determinedly undetermined.
Before long, I found myself lost in the thickening of the fog and the way the sun hid itself behind the mountainous precipice behind me. My soul tugged at me, longing to return to that sweet place. It looked so much more like the High Places than this weary, deadly Valley. The pull was strong; magnetic. I bit my lip. Why would the Shepherd take me from a place so much like the High Places that I dreamed of, only to leave me wandering on my own in this Valley?
I heard a scrape and a shuffle come from a great boulder on my left. I stopped in my tracks. “Who goes there?” My breath curled out into the mist.
“Well, look at you now. He left you here to make you suffer, didn’t He? He sure enjoys watching you bear such pain and suffering – all for ‘the sake of love!'” Sneered a voice. I recognized it, even through the fog. Bitterness stuck out his ugly head from behind the boulder, pouting in mock commiseration.
His words were sharp echoes of everything I had been thinking deep, deep down inside. I gritted my teeth and started to move forward, but I felt like I was ambling through molasses. The wound on my leg began to throb.
I didn’t get far before I heard another voice, much like the first: “You poor thing. You don’t deserve this. Look at you! All you’ve ever done is say ‘yes’ to that old Shepherd and what do you get for it? This is how He treats you after all of your faithfulness? Where are these ‘High Places’ He promised?” Self-Pity crept slowly out from the cover of a shadow. The sun was sinking, and with it my heart began to weaken. It really did seem like they were right. Where was the Help that the Shepherd had promised me?
I tried to close my ears. There was a seed in me, deep and buried somewhere, that kept on saying, No. I know the Shepherd is Good. I know He is kind. He will be faithful to me. But it was a weak, small voice compared the roar of the accusation all around me and all within me. Self-Pity and Bitterness kept on cowing me as I tripped and stumbled forward. Soon I realized they were closing in – and that was why their voices seemed to get louder and louder.
The thudding agony of all their words, paired with the accusations of my own heart, weighed so heavily on me I could no longer move. I stumbled again, but this time I fell to my knees and could think to do nothing else but cry out: “Shepherd! O, Shepherd! I need You!”
AGHHHHH! I heard Self-Pity and Bitterness shriek in highest dread. I heard the desperate pounding of their feet over stones and around boulders, stumbling and tripping in their terror and haste to get away. When I looked up, I saw the figure of the Shepherd standing over me, his face traced by moonlight. He helped me to my feet, and I clung to Him with tears streaming down my face.
“Beloved, why did you not call before?” He asked gently. “I would have come – for you know I am always closer than you can see.”
I nodded, realizing now what I did not seem able to think of with the accusations closing in on me. Suddenly, they all seemed very foolish. For here He was, as kind and beautiful and righteous as ever, healing my wounds, proving again the perfection of His leadership. He was more determined than I knew to see me to High Places.
I’ve seen it all and I know you. I am fully aware of your suffering. When you think no one else sees or understands, I am here. I am fully aware. And I feel it with you. I promise you that the crying is not unnoticed. The tears are not unheard or unseen. The ache inside doesn’t mean ‘nothing’ to me – it all means something. I can interpret the cries of the heart that no one else can hear. And I am with you in this Valley of Suffering. I am with you. I am for you. I am near you. I’m in love with you. I don’t hold my heart back from you when suffering comes, Dear One. I rush in to fill the low places.
Do not be afraid to call to Me in the night or in the depths of the Valley, for “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9)
As the sun broke over the jagged mountain behind me, I pressed forward again. This time, I knew the Shepherd was with me; that He Himself had gone before me and traced these steps of sorrow and suffering long before I even started this journey. He has suffered the longing and the ache and the wounding that I now only bear in part. In my mind’s eye, I traced the memory of His nail-scars. Yes. This is what love does. Love gives all, even when it’s costly. Love suffers long. Love believes all things, hopes all things; endures all things. And here I am, joining in with Him, learning to love Him back the way that He has loved me.
God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation. (Hebrews 2:10)
Inspired by Hannah Hurnard’s “Hinds Feet on High Places”
Photography by Aphantopus on DeviantArt.com