The valley and the Shepherd
Brian Barker

Assistant minister Brian Barker writes about the fear we face in the valley of the shadow of death and the good Shepherd who can guide us through.

Something had gone wrong.

Here I was, sitting outside the operating theatre, wondering if my child was still alive, wondering if Michelle was still alive, wondering who on earth reads magazines about breeding chickens.

It had escalated quickly. Only minutes before, Michelle had been pacing up and down the corridor of the birthing unit, coffee in hand, reading the posters on the walls. One of the midwives called her into the room to check on the equipment monitoring our baby’s heart rate. She was frowning. She knelt down beside Michelle and said that she was going to push a button and a bunch of people would run into the room.

True to her word, the button was hit. In ran doctors, nurses and midwives. The baby’s heart rate had crashed. Michelle was moved and checked, then shuffled onto another bed. She was wheeled out the door and hurtled down the corridor towards the operating theatres. I was left to run behind her, chasing the bed like a supporting actor in a movie scene. As we approached the theatres, I was guided towards the lone chair located in a tiny alcove, just outside the doors. I sat. The theatre doors swung closed.

I was alone.

I was afraid.

In those first moments of silence, I touched real terror. What if the baby died? What if Michelle died? I prayed. I begged God to do something. I looked around the little alcove. Some magazines were sitting on a table beside my chair. The publication on the top of the pile was about breeding and raising different varieties of chickens—it did not offer me much comfort. (I still have no idea who reads this sort of thing!!)

Unprompted, the words of Psalm 23 flooded my mind, just as the doctors and midwives had flooded the room moments earlier. Over the previous months, I had really enjoyed listening to a newish recording of Psalm 23 by a group called Shane & Shane, and right now the words of the song were a balm for my terror.

the Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want
in green pastures He makes me lie down
He restores my soul and leads me on for His Name
for His great Name….

surely goodness, surely mercy
right beside me all my days
and I will dwell in Your house forever
and bless Your Holy Name….

even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil
even though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death
You are on my side….

I was still afraid. I was still shaking with adrenaline and fear. I still didn’t know if our baby would be okay. But I did know that my Shepherd was there with me. The tiny alcove with just one seat seemed fractionally less lonely, knowing that my Shepherd was by my side. In some way, death was still hanging over me, but it was a comfort to know that whatever happened now, my Shepherd, the good Shepherd, had himself faced death and defeated it.

In God’s kindness, my terror didn’t last very long. The doctors worked quickly and our son was born healthy. We named him Joshua, which means the Lord saves.

I recognise that not all stories end like this. I wasn’t sure that our story would end like this either. But it is good to know that our Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, is uniquely qualified to comfort us and guide us in the face of death. He knows what it is to have a loved one die. He wept at the tomb of his friend. He himself has trod a path through the valley of the shadow of death and can guide us through.