I truly understand the part in Psalm 23 about walking “in the valley of the shadow of death.” That’s where I was the first few years after I returned from Iraq. During those years when I faced the worst of my PTSD, I was taking the full brunt of those terrifying emotions that completely controlled me, jerking me along like a puppet on a string. In the overwhelming horror of the moment, I did some very stupid things. I know that God must have been with me, and His angels stayed quite busy to keep me from doing anything that might harm myself in my reckless abandon. I simply did not know what I was doing. The feelings were so strong that they were all I could think of. I was able to get through the day well enough, but I would always need that time at night where I could get off by myself and “self medicate” with alcohol until I felt safe, and only when I felt safe could I let any of those feelings out or think about them. But I had to negotiate my way through them somehow because, to me, they felt like a powder-keg during the day, just waiting for the right spark to set off the explosion.
I lived in those days with a constant death wish and thought of suicide very often. The one thing that kept me from acting on any of the suicidal thoughts was that I knew I would leave pain behind, and I could not do that to my children. No matter how bad the pain got, and no matter how dark my thoughts and feelings, I knew that was a line I could never step across. I’m sure God was with me all those years, too, although I was too distraught to feel Him and too angry at Him for allowing these things to happen to me, so I never, ever prayed in those days. But now that I’ve gotten beyond the worst of the pain and have gotten back into my prayer life in spades, I have learned so much more about God and can look back on those years and see His hand in so many things. Moreover, the suffering has opened so many windows into God’s wisdom. There is something supernaturally powerful about suffering greatly in His name, following in the footsteps of our Savior’s Suffering. Some may question whether I suffered in His name given my military career, but the path I followed was a path that He laid out for me. For all of my adult years, I have always yielded to Him and have always kept my heart humble, so I know that the suffering that I endured was by His design, working into His plan of sanctification for me.
I pray that you will all know God’s plan for your lives and that, if you are going through suffering or spiritual darkness (“the valley of the shadow of death”), you will be filled with His peace that passes all understanding and with His courage and wisdom to endure this time of your life.