“What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,
who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,
it will become a place of refreshing springs.
The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.
They will continue to grow stronger,
and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.”
Psalm 84:5-7 (New Living Translation)
I know it sounds cliche, but really, how many people realize that when you set your minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, you will indeed walk through the Valley of Weeping. The Psalm says “when”, not “if”. And that “when” is for those whose strength comes from the Lord. Seriously, how much do we really believe that if our strength comes from the Lord – that is, we rely on Jesus for our strength – that we will walk through the Valley of Weeping? And get joy out of that? It is an absolute conundrum that we face with this portion of Scripture. It confronts our human desire for the kind of happy we imagine occurs when everything goes smoothly in our lives. It confronts the logic we use to conclude that if we get our strength from the Lord, we will be happy no matter what. Weeping does not imply happiness.
The hardest decision I make daily is continuing on this pilgrimage to Jerusalem. I can only do some of what I do because the Lord gives the strength for it. The requirements for the trip include:
(1) Giving up my agenda on a regular basis. That’s right. I have plans to do things and I give them up regularly because of someone else’s needs. Not without boundaries. But if you look at when Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, you find out he went way out of his way to minister to lepers. Danielle Strickland spoke at North Pointe about this three years ago. Whether the writer was tongue in cheek when he spoke of Jesus stopping for the lepers “on the way” (but it was actually way out of his way) to Jerusalem, or whether it simply means that going out of his way was in fact the “way” to the cross, is immaterial. Just as whether going out of our way in our journey, or whether going out of our way IS the journey, is immaterial. Going out of our way is the point.
(2) Taking hits. Staying true to kingdom ethics, realizing the ends do not justify the means but that God cares about the means, being authentic, being real, being vulnerable, being honest, will challenge a culture that puts as good a face as possible on everything and considers that a value. (Can you spell “facebook”?) This results in taking some hits as discomfort with accountability occurs.
(3) Identifying with and experiencing kinship with people I never knew before. I did not grow up wanting to identify or experience sisterhood with homeless, addicted, mentally challenged, sexually exploited, etc., people. I’m ashamed to say that I wanted to stay as far away as possible from that experience lest it be contagious. I liked to expound on justice principles without realizing how my actions (or lack thereof) contributed toward injustice. (Stated more simply, to live justly requires us to do justice, not talk about doing justice.) I did not understand how these experiences could happen to people. I did not know the stories of people who find themselves in these circumstances. I had to intentionally seek out opportunities to walk through the Valley of Weeping with those in that valley. Because, guess what? I’m in that valley, too. I’m not typical of the people filling our suburban churches today. No traditional family unit here with a mother, father and 2.5 children or whatever the average is now, with a beautifully kept house, a white picket fence, and all the accoutrements of a typical, commercialized North American family? This means that I often reside in the Valley of Weeping as we humans tend to categorize one another and push each other into groups of not necessarily like-minded people, but like-circumstanced people. We often judge each other by our circumstances, though that is not often confessed or acknowledged. Will we sit in different groups in heaven? Are we not to bring heaven to earth (i.e., “thy kingdom come”)?
(By the way, I am not saying people in other circumstances than my own do not go through the Valley of Weeping or experience sadness, sorrow, etc. I am simply sharing my experience here.)
Please don’t think I’m a saint and successfully do these things. Let’s talk; I’ll share. The point is, to even decide or determine to do it is difficult and guarantees a struggle as we work out our own salvation. Are we in this together?
The beauty of it all, though, as the Psalmist indicates, is that when you do it – that is, when you set your mind on that journey, that walk, that pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which takes you right through the Valley of Weeping – you are refreshed, renewed, blessed, strengthened all along the way, by One whom you will meet when you get there.
Oh Lord, give me strength!