I just finished a book called Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard.
It’s a Christian classic about a young girl named Much-Afraid. She lives in a low basin called the Valley of Humiliation, with her family, the Fearings. Her family consisted of people such as Gloomy, Pride, Resentment, Self-Pity, Bitterness, Dismal Forebodings, Spiteful, and the like. Needless to say, they were a dysfunctional and entirely miserable bunch. In the midst of the chaos and turmoil set about her in that valley, though, she had the respite of every morning and evening meeting the Chief Shepherd, for whom she was in service for many years, at a pool on the outskirts of town. One day after learning that it had been arranged for her to marry her cousin Craven Fear, requiring her permanent residence in the valley to slavishly attend him, she ran out to meet the Shepherd by the pools to share the horrible news. She had no hope of ever leaving to something better, for they threatened to enforce the marriage whether she was willing or not, and such a dreadful thought reduced her to tears in his arms. After divulging all she had to say, she looked up at the far-off mountains and said, “Oh, if only I could escape from this Valley of Humiliation altogether and go to the High Places, completely out of reach of all the Fearings and my other relatives!”
The moment she said this, the Shepherd replied, “I have waited a long time to hear you make that suggestion, Much-Afraid. It would indeed be best for you to leave the Valley for the High Places, and I will very willingly take you there myself.” She was shocked and amazed at the suggestion, and took to it with great excitement until she looked down at her feet and considered her crippled condition. It was said that only the sure-footed hinds and deer could ascend the treacherous slopes of the High Places. Then there was the factor of her family, who had an intense hatred for anything to do with the Chief Shepherd and his High Places, threatening to hold her down. The Shepherd promised her that, as long as she was under his care, her family would have no power over her. She was also promised to always have two companions to help her, carrying her if need be, the entire way. He also promised that upon her arrival he would “make [her] feet like hinds’ feet, and set [her] upon the High Places” himself. She knew the way would be difficult and her family would take every opportune moment to dissuade her along the way, but because of her trust in the Shepherd’s promises, she made a break for it.
After the first chapter of this book, I asked God to use it as a map to show me my own journey: where I’ve been, where I am, how I got here, and the way upward. So I followed Much-Afraid on her detour through a great desert, and a painful stay on the Shores of Loneliness from which the only way out was to scale an impossible wall. Then she had to cross the Great Precipice of Injury, trudge through the Forests of Danger and Tribulation, find her way through a blinding Mist only to arrive at the Valley of Loss, among other arduous trails. Each one of her obstacles spoke to me in its own way, some more than others.
I had finished the chapter on Much-Afraid’s stay on the Shores of Loneliness right before leaving for a family reunion, the location of which was saturated with water. Nearly every trail had a stream run across it and you couldn’t go far without finding a small lake somewhere. Being the athletic type, I brought a mountain bike with me. While the family was going about their afternoon lulls I would take off on it for a few hours at a time.
It was a BLAST! I treated the trails like my own journey to higher places, pushing through the pain in my legs on the slippery, rocky ascents, drawing from my Shepherd’s strength just as Much-Afraid. One day I followed a trail that led me through knee-deep water, up and down difficult terrain, across grassy planes, through narrow passageways of trees, and finally ended at a hidden forest lake (shown above). I didn’t see another soul the whole way there, and upon arrival found that I had an entire lake to myself. Exactly the sort of thing I normally reveled in. So I stopped, got off the bike, and beheld the unoccupied beauty before me. As I sat there on the shore, I thought this would be a perfect place to wind down with a book. So I pulled Hinds’ Feet on High Places out of my backpack and opened its pages. Something stopped me from beginning, though, as I looked out on to the small waves. The adrenaline was wearing off, and in its place grew a nagging, unsettled feeling quite unlike the solitude I expected.
I put the book down and sighed,
“God, I am so lonely.”
Through the course of the past two years, I have left the love and home of my mother due to step-fatherly strife (put mildly). I’ve been betrayed by a close confidant, someone I once admired and considered very trustworthy, who is now a stranger to me. My dearest cat died. Dev-a-sta-ting. The only person my age who I hung out with on a near daily basis moved to another state. My childhood best friend got married and is beginning her own family, and the rest of my friends, who are between 40-65 years of age (I’m 22), have their own families, curfews, and routines. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m lonely because I’m friendless. I love the people in my life and am very grateful for their friendships, but there is a lot I can’t relate to and a lot that I can’t relate to them. Being in such a different stage in life than they, there is a disconnection.
I have some responsibility in where I’m at, though. After the aforementioned betrayal, I shut off the vulnerability switch. The woman hurt the hell out of me, and I wasn’t about to give any new faces ammunition to do the same. I’ve been bitter as bitter could be, and presently, looking at my life now versus when I would tear down the walls, life just isn’t the same without thriving relationship. Yet now I’m stuck with trying to overcome the hardened, pessimistic persona I’ve held up for a facade. Week after week of impersonal conversation and one-word answers kind of turns new people off to you, and you can’t change others’ perceptions overnight. So when I have the whimsical idea to go to out for coffee and discussion at 10:30pm on an idle Wednesday (it happens!), I don’t know who to call.
There were neither coffee houses nor reception out there anyway, leaving my thoughts to turn to a far deeper reason I felt the way I did.
In my early years as a Christian, it seemed that all I needed to do was call on Him, just once, like He promised Much-Afraid. I’d always get an immediate response. If I was hurt, all I did was say so, and I would be comforted. If I was anxious – instantly my bones were filled with the marrow of soundness. If I felt alone and misunderstood, I’d be met with a powerful, enduring rush of His presence. Frustrated and uncertain? BAM, wisdom. My phone was perpetually lost, but I never had to find it because I had an constant connection to the Throne. Prayer came easily; I didn’t even consider it something so pious as “prayer.” It’d just be having a chat with God here, there, and everywhere, whenever and about whatever! Just like one of those friends who requires no filter, but even better because He was always available. Jesus was my BFF! Everything went to Him.
Having to refer to those wonderful things in the past-tense brought tears to my eyes, and still does. The intimacy we had, all that was. Why has He not been so in my current, my here, my now? What am I to do with this two year long silence that began so suddenly? Much-Afraid’s way out of the Shores was to scale an impossible wall. Maybe I too, have an undiscovered wall to conquer. Or maybe God has something else in mind.
Much time went by waiting, wanting, and missing. Analyzing, figuring, and thinking, trying to make sense of it all. I eventually stood up from the shore with nothing resolved, wondering where God’s promises might be and how long His apparent furlough from my life would last, and made my way back to camp.
(Click here to continue to Pt. II)