I had a screen saver on my computer in college that rotated through inspirational quotes. I don’t recall exactly where I got it. I think my roommate received it from someplace; maybe it came with a bookstore promotion. That part doesn’t really matter. What matters is there was one particular quote that always resonated with me: The best way out is always through.
This is the only quote from the whole lot that I remember, even though I probably stared at that screen for hours. I’m not sure why I liked this particular quote so much, except for the potential that God knew better than I what was coming down the road. He let this thought sink in during the fun times. He was preparing me for the challenging times.
It has been said many times that if God brings you to it, He will bring you through it. There is a hymn that reminds us “All the way my savior leads me.” God himself reminds us that he will never leave us or forsake us (Joshua 1:5). Unfortunately, I can know these things intellectually and still not feel them in my heart.
During some of my darkest times, I came to curse my “favorite quote.” It would roll again and again through my head like the drum beat of a death march. And that’s exactly what “through” felt like: like death itself. I didn’t want to go through. I wanted to go anyplace except through. I wanted to go back. I wanted to go around. I wanted to go over. I did not want to go through. But again and again that cursed quote would pound through my head: the best way out is always through. Seriously, God? Seriously?
The 23rd Psalm is referenced so frequently that my eyes often glaze over the moment I begin to think about it. But I was thinking of this Psalm the other day, and how we jump frequently to the pleasant parts, but don’t dwell much on that very powerful line in the middle: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” (Psalm 23:4).
Did you see it? Even in this psalm that is used so often as a source of comfort, the path described is through the valley. God does not lead David around; He leads him through.
There are a lot of valleys in life. Some are small and inconvenient. Some are large and overwhelming. Some are so long and dark we get part way through and can’t see light out either end. The most frightening are those where we stand at the entrance looking down a path that seems to be pointing in… and no further than that. Just where exactly is God taking me??
God’s rod and God’s staff can comfort us, but there is no denying the fact that the valley is terrifying. And there is no denying the fact that we eventually reach a point where we have to walk through it. Sometimes God’s rod and staff not only comfort, they prod. Us. Forward.
I’ve been through a valley like that. I went in kicking and screaming and trying to convince God and myself that there was an alternative route. But no matter how I tried to turn the other way, I came right up against the cold hard fact that the best way, the only way, was through. No matter which way I tried to turn, God kept prodding me forward.
Someplace in the middle, when I was still clawing my way through the dark, my plea changed from “Please let me go a different way” to “Please help me through.” This was not an easy transition. But through that valley, I eventually learned in my heart what I initially knew only in my head. In some of the darkest and most terrifying valleys, there is still a path forward.
The best way out is always through.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).