Sometimes life doesn’t play out as we had planned. The love interest doesn’t love us back. The job opportunity falls through. Being able to buy that home is taking longer than anticipated.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 NIV).

I’ve heard this verse many times in my life and have only understood it as it relates to walking through a trial. However, looking through it again, I see another element. Sometimes our dark valley isn’t a hard event or situation. Sometimes, our dark valley is literally that—a darkness that overtakes us and leaves us blind to what is ahead.

In those moments, it’s hard to understand what God is doing. It’s hard to have faith that He is guiding us when everywhere we turn, we see absolutely nothing.

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 

The rod and the staff, in a shepherd’s hands, are guiding instruments. They are not sweet items to coddle the animal—they are lovingly used to guide the animal. Imagine yourself as a sheep going through a dark valley, unable to see the road in front of you. Left to our own devices, we would wander around in the dark, get lost and potentially be eaten by wolves lurking in the shadows. Without the knowledge and guiding hand of the shepherd, we would be lost.

The rod and staff are not comforting. It can be painful. The blow may be a little harder than we anticipated and leave us grieving in loss or disappointment, but the rod and staff keep us straight. They keep us on the path that will lead us to the place we were meant to go. When opportunities slip by, or the seemingly perfect goal falls through, it can be used as a rod to guide us, and a staff to keep us within reach of the Shepherd who loves us and protects us.

It can be hard to trust when we don’t see what’s ahead. It’s hard to believe that God is guiding when we’re following the directions and things just aren’t happening. But that’s the beauty of how God instructs us. It’s not easy. It’s not simple. But it is best.

So go ahead and grieve the opportunities that never were. Cry for the life that you had pictured in your mind—but also cry with joy and thanksgiving for the guidance of your Shepherd who sees the path, even in the dark, and allows things to fall through because He has something better in store. Eventually, the dark will pass and our eyes will be opened. We will see, with the amazing tenderness of God, just how good our Shepherd truly is.