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
Filling in the blanks.
My first introduction to fear as a boy was when I mistook a bathrobe hanging on the back of the door for a hooded villain. It seemed that every time I ducked under the blanket awaiting my doom and stole a furtive peek, the villain grew in size. Unbeknownst to me at that age was the mind’s ability to exaggerate fear. Our minds have an incredible penchant for filling in the blanks created by our obscured sight. Our imaginations can draw fatal conclusions from shadow-skewed scenes giving the insubstantial more credence than it deserves. These shadows stalk us in our daily journey as we navigate relationships, experience tragic events, face work-place issues, juggle change and loss, and on the list goes. These experiences can cast threatening silhouettes that temp our minds to complete the vague picture in a pessimistic light. We blow up out-of-context words a coworker said at the factory. We suffer 1,000 death scenarios of what we will do after a life-debilitating illness or divorce. Or maybe we run ahead of a doctor’s call for tests with wild fantasies of what it could mean.
These profound mental and emotional reactions often occur because what we saw became exaggerated by shadows. Shadows cast our perceptions in a cold and menacing light. They give illusory power to mundane things, tricking our minds time and time again.
Are we afraid of a cause or an effect?
In “the valley of the shadow of death”, shadows represent the darkest, scariest places we encounter - Spiritual places where you can’t see your hand in front of your face - Tangible darkness that you can feel. Shadows obscure sight, exaggerate the threat, and create unwarranted anxiety. Shadows make substantial that which was never meant to have substance. Because of shadows, what began as a seed-thought sprouted into a monstrous apparition. But how much of our fears are unfounded because we have been reacting to an effect (shadow) instead of a substantial cause? Remember the story of David and Goliath? David’s people Israel were unnerved by the giant who was described as 9½ foot tall fully armored foe. A detailed description is given in I Samuel 17. After processing the threat, Israel’s mind did the rest, resulting in panic and cowardice. I call this “The Goliath Syndrome”. The effect he had on everyone surpassed the cause. This is proven when David - a teenager - killed him with a small stone, breaking the enchantment. The effect is only greater than its cause because our minds make is so.
The Shadow Chaser
One of the most comforting phrases in Psalm 23 is about what the shepherd does in the valley of the shadow of death for those who trust Him. This is the comfort they receive: “For you are with me”. Only light can dispel the shadows. Through the Shepherd’s presence, we see shadows for what they really are. The Wizard of Oz's curtain is drawn back and we realize how hollow the threat was. We see the legend our minds created and are left with the real picture. But even though the true picture may seem bleak, it’s always better to have light and reality than shadow and myth. God is the shadow chaser. He pulls back the gloom and lets in the light, chasing away the things we thought had substance. The beauty of this scene is that when we discern the reality for what it truly is, we discover along with David , “for You are with me”.