Peaks And Val­leys

The in­side scoop


I RE­CENTLY READ C. S. LEWIS’ NOVEL THE SCREWTAPE LET­TERS, which chron­i­cles a fic­tional cor­re­spon­dence be­tween a se­nior devil named Screwtape and a ju­nior devil named Worm­wood. Th­ese let­ters in­clude fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into Satan's strate­gies for sab­o­tag­ing my spiritual growth, re­la­tion­ship with God, and in­ter­ac­tions with oth­ers. One of the let­ters ex­plores the ups and downs of the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence, what I call the “peaks and val­leys.”

In this let­ter, the devils are dis­cussing the pe­riod of “dry­ness and dull­ness” that Worm­wood's charge is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. Screwtape warns that God in­tends to use this time to strengthen the young man's faith and ad­vises Worm­wood to en­sure that the young man does not be­come aware of the nor­malcy of val­leys but in­stead be­comes con­vinced that his lan­guid, de­pressed feel­ings are a per­ma­nent con­di­tion. As I read, I re­flected on my per­sonal peak-and­val­ley cy­cle and what I have learned from my val­leys.

I have cer­tainly en­joyed “peaks” in my life: pe­ri­ods of suc­cess in my work, progress in my stud­ies, friend­ships, health, joy­ful com­mu­nion with Je­sus, and in­spir­ing Bi­ble read­ing. But I have also ex­pe­ri­enced “val­leys,” such as the one I strug­gled through just re­cently. It started with a ma­jor set­back in my work, fol­lowed by prob­lems in my stud­ies, con­flicts and strained com­mu­ni­ca­tion with loved ones, and fi­nally a bout of ill­ness. I found my­self at an all-time low, with no in­spi­ra­tion to read my Bi­ble or even pray.

My val­ley seemed to stretch on end­lessly, swal­low­ing me in its dark empti­ness and blan­ket­ing me in de­spair. I felt as if God had packed His bags and dis­ap­peared. I pled for Him to be near, to pull me through my trou­bles, and to let me feel His pres­ence, but He seemed dis­tant and silent. What is hap­pen­ing? What have I done wrong? I won­dered des­per­ately.

I tried to use willpower and ef­fort to re-cre­ate the ex­cite­ment and spiritual high I had en­joyed dur­ing my peaks, but this only left me exhausted and more dis­cour­aged. It fi­nally dawned on me that faith can­not be mea­sured by feel­ings, for as Paul says, “We live by faith, not by sight.” Fo­cus­ing on my change­able

1 and of­ten neg­a­tive emo­tions only plunged me deeper into my doubts and made my tri­als more dif­fi­cult to bear.

Read­ing The Screwtape Let­ters con­firmed what I had dis­cov­ered in my val­ley. My strug­gles were not in­di­ca­tions that I had failed God or that He had aban­doned me. Rather, they are painful yet nor­mal parts of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence in a fallen world. It felt as if I would re­main in my mis­ery for­ever, but I found that all val­leys end in God's time, and I emerged with re­newed faith in His grace and love.

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