The Top of the Trees

For 20 years, depression defined my existence. Hopelessness. Worthlessness. Thinking life was pointless. I even convinced myself I was unable to believe in God. I felt broken and discarded. Definitely a life lived in the “valley of the shadow of death.” I wavered between feeling like a dead person walking and wishing for death.

One familiar Scripture, Psalm 23, spoke to me at different times during my valley walk. Assigning this Psalm only to funerals limits it, because oh does it reach well beyond the grave. If these word were true, then maybe I could make it through the valley. Maybe life existed beyond depression.

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In “Created to Be God’s Friend,” Henry Blackaby says,

“Faith is based on what you know about God.”

What I knew at the time were almost cliché scripture, like Psalm 23, but I hoped they were true. I hoped that what Psalm 23 said about His leading and His presence were real and could dispel the darkness. I hoped “goodness and mercy” were following me, and I hoped my path led to God’s table.

In Chapter 5 of “The Fire of Delayed Answers,” Bob Sorge talks about what happens “When the Lights Go Out.” He talks about being in the valley, under the trees. Picture a dark place with no light breaking through the trees. Difficult to stay on the path when the surrounding darkness seems strangely inviting.

In that darkness, thoughts and feelings lure you from the path and into the waiting arms of evil that wants to destroy you. But the path, though you probably fail to realize it, leads out of the valley and above the trees toward the waiting mountain top.

Staying on the Path

What kept me on the path lies with what kept me alive. You see, I felt consumed by the darkness. Yet even though I failed to realize it at the time, God led me through. He will do the same for you. Simply take one foot and put it in front of the other.

What does this mean practically? Let’s look at Sorge’s advice followed by my perspective looking back on the journey through the valley.

  1. Immerse yourself in God’s Word – Even when comprehension evades you.
  2. Give yourself to prayer until God speaks – Even when you feel deaf.
  3. Give yourself to righteousness and gracious compassion – Even though you don’t deserve it.
  4. Stay focused on God alone – Even when feelings try to lead you off the path.
  5. Know that God sometimes speaks through others – Even when you feel all alone.

As I walked through this valley that consumed most of the first half of my life, I became very familiar with the underside of the trees. But then one day I suddenly realized that the tops of the trees weren’t as far away. Then the trees started appearing below me with the undersides no longer visible. Sorge describes the journey this way:

“Slowly the believer begins to ascend, but the climb is so gradual that the believer is not aware of any change.”

This valley walk shaped me into the person I am today. Along the journey, I tried a lot of different methods for quickly getting out of the valley only to discover there is no quick way out. The only way out of the valley is by walking through it all the while focusing on God and following the path laid out before me.

Even in depression and discouragement, even for 20 long years, a God-focus leads out and up. Feelings don’t matter. Thoughts don’t matter. Simply putting one focused foot in front of the other takes you out of the valley. In fact, it’s truly the only way out, the only way to see the top of the trees.

Welcome to the book club discussion of The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge. Each blogger in the group is reading and then sharing on what inspires, encourages, or challenges them. We’ll be taking 2 weeks per chapter. Our co-facilitators are Jason and Sarah – other active participants include Dusty, Glynn, Joell, TC and Rick.  If you know of others, please leave a link for their post in the comments.

18 thoughts on “The Top of the Trees

  1. Kari, This is so good. I lived with agitated depression for years not knowing there was such a thing. Just thought I was high-strung and anxious. What a relief it was to know that depression can look hyper. Staying in the Word, prayer, serotonin, and a great counselor and I am much much better. So thankful for a God who guides us on His path. Thanks Kari!

    • I actually had not heard the term "agitated depression" before, but it makes sense now that you describe it. And actually, it may be the link I need to understand my seemingly anxious feelings of late. We must be deliberate in handling depression; otherwise, it will take over our lives. Without God, I would not have much victory in this at all, at least victory that has eternal value.

      • I'm so glad you put yourself out there like this. It's a little scary, but I know it will bless many people who struggle with depression . . . some many not even know it. What a blessing to know how personally faithful and patient God is with us.

        • Thank you for the encouragement, Deb. Actually, my first book (just finishing the rough, rough draft this week) is based on this whole depression experience over the past 20 years. It's definitely scary to be vulnerable like this, but I think God wants us to use our most treasured experiences with Him to help others.

  2. Kari,
    This is like work on the farm that I grew up on. There aint no short cuts on the farm. You have got to do the things you know you should do to bring the crop from the tilling of the soil to the harvest. You can not skip steps; you can not speed them up. You can make the harvest better by how well focused you are on doing the things you should do regardless of how you feel and think about the mundane of it all.

    • So true, Mark. My husband, who also grew up on a farm, illustrates this well in almost every area of life. I think it's why he enjoys constant challenge too. He has set a terrific example of doing what needs done regardless of how you feel or think. Thanks for pointing out this connection.

  3. So glad kari you found Him adequate. I am not reading the book but do like what you and others have written. I particularly liked Blackaby's quote. That is so true!!!

  4. Such an honest and encouraging post, Kari.

    I'm so glad my feelings are not always true. They deceive me time and again, but God's word endures and is trustworthy. Right now I'm mediating and praying over "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice."
    Learning to rejoice through the pain as I depend upon a reliable Savior.

    • Thanks, TC. We definitely need to keep getting the Word in us over and over again. It helps to win the war against our feelings. Rejoicing and being thankful are keys in that victory too.

  5. Love Psalm 23. You are so right when you say it has meaning far beyond just at funerals. There are all sorts of dark valleys we face and it is wonderful to know that our Good Shepherd is there to protect and to provide, in all areas of life. I love to think about Him leading me beside still waters, where I can feed and rest and be restored. My mind flashes to Green Lake conference center and a time when He did just that for my troubled soul. Thanks for sharing your story with us. Blessings as you grow in your intimacy with Him and bless our lives with what you learn on the journey.

  6. Powerful 5 points! I also really loved your statement: "The only way out of the valley is by walking through it all the while focusing on God and following the path laid out before me." When going through a valley season I always try to remember God is right beside me (even when I'm not seeing or feeling it). Knowing that gives me the confidence to keep moving forward.

    • Remembering that God IS right there regardless of our own thoughts & feelings is crucial to coming out of the valley. We have to recall His faithfulness & know He will continue in that faithfulness.

  7. So many great things in this post, Kari. I had a thought about that last point, "Know that God sometimes speaks through others" because I've experienced it myself and seen it in others. This is hard when you're used to seeing or hearing for yourself! It takes more humility and faith. And it's just different. I've had people tell me (as a pastor) that God has abandoned them because He's not revealing Himself the same way as before. They don't call it darkness for nothing, but He does indeed lead us through and to that ascending place. Praise God! Thanks so much, Kari.

  8. I've found it's helpful to think back in my life about the blessings I've been given and how God has powerfully worked in my life. That gives me the strength to keep pushing forward through the valley.

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