Through the Valley: Whole-Life Discipleship in Suffering and Hardship

Through the Valley: Whole-Life Discipleship in Suffering and Hardship

I whispered the words to myself in the dark: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” They came easy and familiar to my mind, and I could feel my heart and breathing still as I repeated them. They were the reminder I needed. They were a prayer anchored in God’s character: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” What a promise—God’s abiding presence with His people no matter what life may bring.

When we think about whole-life discipleship, we usually talk about things like the sacred-secular divide, faithfulness in our workplaces, the importance of families and friendship, or investing in a neighborhood. All of these are wonderful and much-needed discussions as we seek to live as faithful disciples of Jesus. We need our imaginations ever-enlivened to how God can use us in our everyday lives for the work of His Kingdom.

But these conversations often focus on our situation when life is relatively stable, predictable, or positive. What about those middle-of-the-night, in-the-dark moments? When work doesn’t pan out like we’d hoped or we find ourselves unemployed? When we’re wrestling with chronic physical or mental illness? When we find ourselves in a world that is complicated or embroiled with controversy and conflict? When we endure grief or burnout or hardship by many other names? What does whole-life discipleship look like there?

If we believe discipleship applies to the whole of our lives, it must speak to the parts of life that are painful, messy, and complicated. It must be just as true in the dark as in the light, just as true in the valley as on the mountain top. In every season, there must be a way to heed Jesus’ call: “Come, follow Me.”

In this cultural season, cracks are being revealed that are often overlooked. For many of us, it is a difficult one, with a host of personal and societal issues colliding at once, and as I listen to church leaders and everyday Christians in my life, I’m hearing the weight of it. We need spaces for honesty, and we also need spaces of hope. I believe this can come when we have conversations with other brothers and sisters in Christ about what it looks like to follow Jesus faithfully when life gets hard. In the midst of our honesty, we can find hope as we are reminded of God’s abiding presence and faithfulness when we “walk through the valley.”

This fall, we’ll be hosting some of these conversations in a series we’re calling Through the Valley: Real Conversations About Following Jesus When Life Gets Hard. We’ll be featuring curated stories here on the blog and Facebook Live conversations with brothers and sisters who have wisdom to share with us on topics that are painful, complicated, and occasionally controversial. In every case, we’re asking, “What does it look like to follow Jesus faithfully here, for the purpose of His Kingdom?”

Diana Gruver (MA, Gordon-Conwell) writes about discipleship and spiritual formation in the every day. She is the author of Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints who Struggled with Depression and Doubt. You can find her online at or on Facebook or Twitter. Diana originally published this work with the Vere Institute (Oct 2014 – May 2021), which was founded to empower Christians to integrate their faith into everyday life. The Vere Institute’s legacy lives on through our Vere Library.