"Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
Hear my prayer, O LORD God Almighty;
listen to me, O God of Jacob." Selah Psalm 84:5-8 (NIV)
We had just arrived in the most God-forsaken place I had ever known to exist on the face of the earth. After spending seven weeks with the Voths in the capital city of Kinshasa enjoying Jif peanut butter and hot dogs and hamburgers at the American Club, Kikwit was the bottom of the barrel. Full of occult worshipers, the city had an oppressive atmosphere the minute we arrived inside its limits. The sun seemed to scorch more fiercely. Food was very scant. Being a picky eater, I held out against the canned "corned beef" (canned mush!) and pilchard patties as long as I could. Hunger finally drove me to try what would have been unimaginable before to my taste buds. We were living in the guest house that my grandparents had stayed in over thirty years earlier. The house seemed sad and worn out. A paint brush had not met with the walls for over a decade. The plaster walls were chipped and dirty. Dirt, dirt, dirt. Everywhere was dirt.
Our family was anxious to leave to go on to Nkara Ewa, our mission station, sixty miles from Kikwit. But there were details that had to be worked out before we could go. The days slowly turned to weeks. Boredom was my constant companion. It seemed too hot to do anything. We didn't speak the language, so playing with the Congolese children was difficult.
Nicol was eight, Todd was five, and I was ten. The one bright spot we looked forward to each week was the weekly get-together that the missionaries had at one of their houses. My parents were the youngest of the group. Everyone else was at least a decade older than Dad and Mom. We children didn't care. We were desperately lonely. We cried everyday for what we had left behind us in the States--decent food, twenty-four electricity, and English-speaking friends. Suddenly we were aware of how desperately we missed being with others.
Even though everyone of the missionaries there were old enough to be our parents or grandparents, we children were as excited to be with them as my children would have been to go to Chuck E Cheese. A severe gas shortage came to the city (I should say more severe than normal). Unaware of the ramifications of the shortage, Nicol, Todd, and I looked forward to the evening when we would go see the missionaries. My mother had to sit us down on the bed an hour before we were supposed to leave to tell us that we didn't have the gas to go that evening. The effect of her words on us was as great as if she had just cancelled a promised trip to Disney World. We all sat there and bawled our eyes out. She cried along with us.
My darling sister, are you lonely today? I sobbed my little girl heart out that day long ago because I didn't have contact with others. My loneliness came from our move to a foreign country. But I have since realized that you and I can be surrounded by others and feel terribly alone.
The Valley of Baca was the road the pilgrims of Israel had to take to arrive in Jerusalem. "Baca" means "weeping." Jerusalem was where the sanctuary of Jehovah was. The festivals that these travelers participated in the city of Jerusalem were joyful reminders to them of the faithfulness of God. But the road traveled to the sanctuary was often long and filled with tears.
Where are you most lonely today? Maybe you have had a major move. Maybe you and your family are serving the Lord in a seemingly God-forsaken spot of the world today. You knew His call to go was real and undeniable. But now, the road you are traveling is desert-like. Joy is not readily apparent. Or maybe you are involved in a marriage that looks like a desert. Love is gone or faint at best. Maybe you have had to leave all that is familiar for a new town where no one knows your name. Maybe you are a lonely girl on your college campus. Or maybe you're heart-broken over the loss of someone you never thought you could live without. The days are dark and the nights are interminably long.
Girlfriends, what do we do in our Valleys of Baca? We all have them! Loneliness can drive us to make some of the worst decisions of our lives. Pre-marital or extra-marital affairs, jeopardizing our mental of physical health, or becoming old and bitter before our time can be some of the ravaging results of loneliness. But our God always promises a way out for any temptation that seizes us. Loneliness can drive us into the arms of the only One who can make us feel secure, loved, and protected. Loneliness can make our hearts cry out to the living God who can rescue us. Our valley of weeping in the desert of our loneliness can be the very place where we encounter Jesus Christ Himself. Like the slave girl, Hagar, in the book of Genesis, we can walk away from our valley of weeping knowing that our God is the God who sees us individually.
I want us to do something crazy. I want you and me to praise Jesus right now for how we are going to see Him in this valley of weeping. You see, our God never leads us where He hasn't gone before. If He has led us into the valley, He is in the valley! Praising Him releases us from the heaviness of our loneliness. The shackles of despair fall off when we praise Him with our mouths. What do we have to lose? Our bitterness, despair, and feelings of abandonment.
Jesus, teach us to praise You for our valleys of weeping. You are there with us. You will never leave us or forsake us. Change our hearts to see the power of praise. Let this be our response to you during the desert of our loneliness:
But as for me, I will always have hope;
I will praise you more and more. Psalm 71:14