“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff–they comfort me.” Psalm 23:1-4
Years ago, on the last night of a leadership camp that I was attending, our group decided to go on a night hike through a part of the woods that we had not yet traveled and then to camp out under the stars. Our leaders challenged us to do two things: leave our flashlights off and stay quiet. The dark woods were scary and unfamiliar, so I was eager to turn my flashlight on and let the bright light guide my steps. After several awkward moments of wondering where (or on what) my feet might land, I listened more closely to the words spoken by our leaders, “Give your eyes time to adjust. You don’t need the flashlight, you’ll be able to see where to go.” They were right. My eyes, after what felt like an eternity, adjusted to the dark woods. The moon provided all the light I needed, and my eyes were opened to a new way of seeing.
The “stay quiet” instruction might actually have been harder for me to follow. But in my silence, I heard beautiful sounds; it was like the forest was singing a song for us. I so wanted to talk about what I was seeing and hearing. But in order to see and to hear, I had to be quiet. Silence allowed me to pay more attention to the life that was happening around me.
I always think of that hike when I read Psalm 23. My camp leaders were the physical shepherds that night, giving us instructions and insisting that we trust them even though their ideas sounded so foreign. We knew that they would not lead us astray, but it was still so hard to believe what seemed to be impossible. Trusting in God as our shepherd can feel even more challenging. We may question whether we even heard God correctly. Yet, as the psalmist testifies, even by the still waters, the right paths, or the darkest valleys, God never leaves. Wherever we are on life’s journey, God is with us.
During this season of Lent, as we intentionally try to practice silence and become comfortable with the darkness, sometimes we will want to give up. We might want to share too soon of the discoveries that we are making. But instead, we must pay attention to what God is doing around us. My Lenten challenge to you this day: Open your eyes and give them time to adjust to the new revelations you find. Even in the darkest of valleys, find the strength to just take one step forward and take comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone.
LeAnn Gunter Johns is a 2004 graduate of McAfee School of Theology. She has served churches in Georgia and California and now lives in Macon, Georgia with her husband, Barry and their two boys, Parker and Patrick. In her free time she enjoys cheering on the Stanford Cardinal and Mercer Bears, running, and drinking coffee!