Down in the Valley

In my therapeutic wilderness camping days, there was a song we often sang called, Down in the Valley, a traditional country-blues American folk song. Like most folk songs, the lyrics vary depending on the singer. In all the times, I sang it, I never knew it was also called the “Birmingham Jail” song since our version didn’t mention one word about Birmingham or Jail. All I ever pictured was a lovesick dude wanting to know if his ‘girl’ loved him.

Being “in the valley” is synonymous with a lack of clarity and assuredness. When you are in the valley, all you see is the valley and the mountains you must climb. We are longing for three things, security, approval, and control. Any experienced leader knows that life is filled with mountaintop moments and mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical valleys. Here are three recommendations I will make about valleys.

Know Where You Are
For motivational books, does it get any better than Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go!? The same book, beckons you to your own mountaintop,

“Your mountain is waiting so get on your way!”

while being very clear that valleys are a part of the journey,

“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. but mostly they’re darked.”

Self-Awareness is one of four key predictors of success. (As for the other three, it will be another message for another day.) The first step is awareness. The other two pieces of valley know-how depend on it.

Don’t Pitch a Tent
It’s no wonder that so many choose to have the 23rd Psalm read at their funeral. There is great comfort in knowing you were/are not alone in the path of life especially in times of trouble and darkness. There is something about darkness that heightens your awareness of the unseen and the Unseen. I have been amazed to listen to cancer survivors who describe their battle with cancer as that time in which they felt the closest to God. But there is another key take away from the text. Keep moving. The mountaintop is the place to pause and enjoy the view. The valley is just the passage way. Being in a valley is not as important as being aware of when you are in a valley. Know where you are so you know to make a shift.

Hold the Important Decisions
Back when I was called “Chief” Rick, (another therapeutic camping reference) my boss was “Chief” Paul Daley. I don’t know how many times I heard him utter this phrase when counseling a boy who was having an emotional outburst.

“Don’t trust your negative emotions!”

The camp and the whole program was built for emotionally-troubled boys, so it was not uncommon to see boys make very bad decisions while in a very low state of emotional resourcefulness. Ever experience that yourself? It is interesting how our perceived lack of security, approval and control can drive short-sighted decision making that doesn’t take us to a better place.

On the mountaintop, we get the bigger picture. We see the whole view more clearly and we are operating at higher levels of thought. This is the place to make big decisions.

Keep climbing my friends!


Rick Burris


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