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When You Find Yourself In Yet Another Dark Valley

When You Find Yourself In Yet Another Dark Valley

Right now, a rose and cedar candle is crackling by my side, conjuring up memories of charcoal fires by the beaches of the Michigan lakes of my childhood. It’s the scent of Sunday evening church services all summer, sitting lakeside singing hymns and reciting Scripture. The childlike trust of those summers feels a million miles away, stuck here in yet another dark valley of suffering.

This scent swirls past my story taking me to another seashore, under the peach canopy of dawn, where Jesus sits by a charcoal fire with Peter, cooking him breakfast, feeding him with the love he had just denied knowing. (John 21)

Maybe it’s the candle. Or maybe it’s the echo of Peter’s denial that rang from my lips so recently in my despair. But I am in this story. I am on this beach. 

Where do we go when our hearts have crumbled under the weight of fears pressure?

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, while the Chief Priest treated Him with contempt, Peter stood outside warming himself over a charcoal fire. (John 18) Three times, when asked if he knew Jesus, Peter disowned his Friend. On a cold, dark night, with all of his hopes of revolution for his people falling to ash, Peters fear overshadowed his friendship.

  • The weight of hope can break us. 

But Jesus was more than Peter knew. And having defeated death, Jesus came to find Peter at the sea, back in the place their friendship was first forged.

We do not know what was in Peter’s heart, but I can imagine. Shame. Confusion. The start of hoping again. 

Peter and his friends are on the water. They’ve fished all night and come up with nothing. And a man on the shore calls out to throw their net onto the other side of their boat. And suddenly, the net is so full of fish it’s overflowing. Just like before. Just like the beginning of being with Jesus. (Luke 5)

In such abundance, they recognize Jesus for who He is. And Peter dives into the water, adamant to get to his Friend as fast as possible. His denial clearly wasn’t the whole truth of what lived in his body and heart. 

And on the beach, Jesus has started a charcoal fire (John 21:9), just like the one Peter stood over in shame. And instead of asking why he denied Him, Jesus cooks Peter and the other disciples a meal. 

  • Jesus shows us the way out of shame into strength is sustenance. Plain and simple.

Are you ashamed? Maybe what you most need is someone to cook you a meal.

Anthrakian — this Greek word for charcoal fire is only used here and at Peter’s denial. (John 18:18) The scent had to bring his lowest moment back to the surface. But this time, Jesus extends a friendship that no fear could extinguish. 

And having fed His friends breakfast, Jesus walks with Peter on the beach and asks him three times:

“Do you love Me?”

Each denial is gathered up in the curl of this question. Each answer, a restoration.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

And with each yes to love, Jesus gives Peter a purpose. 

Feed My lambs.
Shepherd My sheep.
Feed My sheep.

Back at my desk, this candle still burns. In these long months, I’ve been brought back to the same places of angst and sickness as years past. I’ve stared at the canyon walls, cold and afraid that my Shepherd won’t find me and bring me through. There have been moments I’ve wanted to deny knowing Jesus at all. There have been days that my fear has overshadowed my friendship with Christ. And, He has still come back to find me. 

And in the company of Peter, I know what can set the broken heart back to strength. 

Repetition can bring restoration. 

Finding ourselves in yet another dark valley doesnt have to mean we are stuck. It can mean we are precisely in the spot where the Shepherd is coming to find us again.

And just like the disciples on the water, Christ will not only return us to the scent of our shame but to the sight of abundance. And we will be fed. Fed more than enough. And so restored, we will reach toward others with the same kindness we have received.

Feed My sheep.

We’ll become people who show each other the way out of shame. Sustenance. Sight. Solidarity.

* * *

Jesus, our Messiah,
the Son of the Living God,
You who gave Simon
a better name
than the shame
that was coming
in denying knowing You
as he stood in the dark,
warming himself
by the flames:
tell us who we are.
Anoint us with a name
we can
t disown
on our worst nights.
Because when we are
called by Your Voice,
we are confirmed
in a love so strong
no trauma or shame
can revoke that we belong
in Your communion of saints,
the church whose gates
even hell cannot break.

—from The Book of Common Courage, p. 171

Written for Devotionals Daily by K. J. Ramsey, author of The Book of Common Courage.

* * *

Your Turn

Are you in a dark valley again? Has shame followed you there? Rather than being stuck, you are precisely in the spot where the Shepherd is coming to find you again. You will be restored. Once restored, you will be a blessing to others in dark valleys. God’s got you! ~ Devotionals Daily