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Going Back to the Valley

Have you ever read the book Hinds' Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard?

I know some people are conflicted about allegory, but I like it when I go into it knowing it’s an allegory, and the tale is told in such a way that it still pulls it in. That’s the case with Hinds’ Feet.

I had read it when I was young, and picked it up again because a friend of mine was moving and getting rid of a lot of her books. This was among them, and I decided to re-read it.

It’s the story of a lame young woman named Much-Afraid who is called to the heights by the Great Shepherd who promises she will be healed and whole.

But the journey up to the mountain is not smooth, and she is still lame and afraid when she begins. There are many times along the journey when she is tempted to turn back. She falls. It looks like the Shepherd is leading her further away from the peak rather than toward it. There are storms and snow and all kinds of obstacles, but each time she puts aside her fear and continues to follow.

She reaches the great heights and is finally healed as she was promised. Her name is changed from "Much-Afraid" to "Grace and Glory." It was a beautiful time with the Shepherd.

And that’s where I wanted to stop reading. Where I did stop reading for a time.

Because I knew what would happen next. She would go back down to the valley with her relatives Spiteful, Craven Fear, Timid-Skulking, Pride, and so on.

I didn’t want to finish the book, because I didn’t want to go back down to the valley. I wanted to follow the shepherd, climb the mountain, and stay there with him.

But that’s not how it works while we’re on this earth. We’re healed and made whole through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit and our experience of walking with the Shepherd for the purpose of bringing others to him, and we can’t do that if we only want to live solitary lives on the comfortable peak.

The valley is difficult and messy. I wasn’t ready to go there. I’m not sure I am yet. But I finally came to a place where I wanted to finish reading the book. I know wherever the Shepherd leads me is good, and I do want to do follow his lead, even if it’s back down the jagged slopes into the melee of hurt people and angry people and sad people and mean people and even evil people.

At the end of my version of Hinds’ Feet, there is a section of some of Hurnard’s journaled thoughts. She compares the waterfall’s exultant leap from great heights to placing our full faith in God and abandoning all our worldly safety nets. She follows the water’s journey to the valley below and wonders this:

“’What does the water do when, after its magnificent abandoned leap, it reaches the cruel rocks below, and there is no longer the ecstasy of leaping down, only a rough, rock-obstructed everyday course before it?’

On the bridge [watching] I saw, and laughed to see, what happens to the water. The bed of the torrent was strewn with huge rocks. There were obstructions everywhere. But the water came rushing along, laughing and rejoicing and absolutely delighted to find its way over and around all the obstacles and difficulties. It seemed as happy and cheerful forcing its way among the grim rocks as when it threw itself down over the heights.”

That’s what God is teaching me. To go back into the valley and rejoice, despite all the obstacles before me. There are many obstacles. I’m sure in this life, I’ll never work my way through all of them and will have many lessons to re-learn along the way, but God was and is working on my heart through that book. I am trying to trust him to lead me not only in the heights during which the beauty of his love feels so tangible and beautiful and profound, but also in the valleys strewn with hardship and hurt and uncertainty. Though my circumstances be uncertain, He is not.

The more I know Him in his all-sufficient, unchanging love, the less the obstacles can affect my hope and my heart.

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