In one of my last classes of the year, a professor read from the classic by C.S. Lewis, “Screwtape Letters.” If you’re not familiar with the book, Lewis provides insight into the Christian life through the fascinating perspective of a “Senior Demon”—Screwtape—writing to a “Junior Tempter”—Wormwood—about his attempts to draw his “patient”—a new Christian—away from his faith. In the particular letter that my professor read from, Screwtape writes to Wormwood about the “law of undulation,” or the series of peaks and valleys which is characteristic of the Christian journey. While Wormwood is excited about the valley which his patient is currently walking through, Screwtape warns him that such difficulty is instead a natural part of the way “the enemy”—God—works in the lives of “His creatures,” and as such is not in and of itself cause for celebration. In a striking statement, Screwtape warns:
It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it (the Christian) is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be – C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters
The Christian life is not a stagnant pool that we step into when we accept Christ as our Savior; it is a flowing river that takes us on a life-long journey as we grow and mature in our faith. It is a journey that will take us through peaks and valleys, along still waters and raging rapids.
The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters … Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. – Psalm 23:1-2, 4
During the valley seasons of our lives we may experience God as absent, distant, or disinterested. While our experiences and emotions in these valley seasons may tell us that we’ve “gotten off course” or that God has abandoned us, Psalm 23 reminds us that even in the darkest valley, God is with us. And not only that, but these seasons can be a source of immense growth and blessing. When we view our valley seasons as something to escape or retreat from, we risk missing the work that God wants to do in our hearts and lives through that experience. I believe that there are important lessons to be learned in the valley seasons of our lives, which I have somewhat affectionately come to refer to in my own life as “The Classroom of Suffering.”
About a year ago, as I set out to begin my second year of Seminary, I was full of expectation and excitement about the season that I was entering into. I anticipated a year of fruitful learning and a year of growing deeper in my faith. And now, a year later, I can tell you that those expectations were met 10 times over. However, it was also an incredibly challenging season of my life—one that wrecked me and often left me feeling disillusioned and discouraged.
Don’t tell my professors this, but the real learning that I experienced in the past year did not occur in my academic classrooms. I certainly learned a lot of important information and skills, and God absolutely used those classes to help me make sense of what I was learning in this season of my life—sometimes with an eerie sense of timing. But the real learning, didn’t happen in my Old or New Testament classrooms, or my Church History classroom, or even my Counseling classrooms; the real learning happened in the classroom of suffering—in the valleys where it felt like everything was falling apart.
As the school year came to an end, I finally began to feel like I’d made my way back to the surface of the deep waters I’d been swimming in – filling my lungs with air for the first time in months. I had sat down at my laptop countless times in the past year with my heart nearly bursting with words that I wanted to share, but much to my frustration those words simply wouldn’t come. What I was left with is a folder full of unfinished reflections on my computer desktop, and hundreds of pages filled in my journals. As I’ve looked back on the past year with a hint of clarity that only hindsight seems to bring, I’ve been astounded by just how much the Lord has been showing me and teaching me through this season of my life.
I am still very much in the process of making sense of these things, a process that I have a feeling will be a lifelong endeavor. And can I just say, the lingering perfectionist in me hates that… maybe that’s why it has been nearly a year since I’ve posted anything on this crazy blog of mine. But here we are. So as I continue to process through all that the Lord has been teaching me lately, I’m going to do my best to share some of those reflections here. My hope and prayer is that my imperfect and faltering thoughts and words can be used by God to bring hope and encouragement to anyone who may be walking through difficult and discouraging seasons in their life and in their walk with God.
I believe that one of the greatest tactics of the enemy of our souls is to keep us in isolation, believing that we are the only one who has ever experienced what we are experiencing.
“I am the only one who has ever felt distant from God”
“I am the only one who has ever struggled to have faith”
“I am the only one who has ever wanted to just give up”
And as “the only one,” we are led to believe that there is something wrong with us, leaving us in a state of shame and despair.
As I’ve shared before, my heart behind why I write is a hope and a desire that God might use my words and reflections to turn the light on for someone who feels stuck in darkness. I share these words with great humility, recognizing that I am only just beginning this journey—one that is marked by more failings and skinned knees than I can count—and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what God is doing in my life and in the world. But I also share these words with FAITH that God can and will use them—however flawed and imperfect they may be—for His great purposes and for His glory.
Thanks for joining me on this journey!