It’s been said that life is a series of highs and lows, of mountaintops and valleys. And I used to think of these as subsequent concepts. One season feels like a mountaintop with everything going exactly as you want. And then the next feels more like a valley, filled with heartache and disappointment.
I think of the tocodynamometer that measured my contractions during childbirth. We’d watch the flat, steady line last for a few minutes before it would suddenly and sharply peak again, only to eventually settle back down. Then the cycle repeated . . . again and again and again. I picture life much that way, too — a season of pain and hardship followed by a season of joy and peace. Repeat.
But earlier this year, my family went through a season that reminded me that life isn’t so much a series of highs and lows following one after the other. Rather, it’s composed of both mountaintops and valleys, occurring at the same time, running parallel tracks. It is very much possible to be both on the mountaintop and in the valley at the same time.
Our journey began when we unexpectedly found out we were pregnant with our second son. Mountaintop.
But I wasn’t the only one in my family doing bloodwork and getting tests performed. A PET scan indicated that my dad might have cancer, which launched us into intense months of waiting in hospitals, calling doctors, and navigating the complex healthcare system — all while fearing the worst. Valley.
Then, my parents sold their house and decided to move to Raleigh to be near my family and my sister. Mountaintop.
In the process of moving, my parents were called on to help move my grandfather into a memory care facility, as his dementia continued to worsen every day. Valley.
Shortly after that, my little sister got engaged to the love of her life. And, we found out the growth in my dad’s lungs was benign, praise God. Mountaintop, mountaintop.
As I struggled to balance both the joy and the heartache (on top of the hormones — I mean, come on, I was pregnant!), I felt resentful in the moments when hard things compromised my joy and guilty in the moments when I felt joy despite the hard things happening. I wanted to feel and process the highs and the lows, one at a time — not at the same time. But that’s not how life works.
Your circumstances might not look the same as mine, but I imagine you can think of seasons when hard things were happening right along with the good.
Especially during the holiday season, you might find yourself navigating both the highs and the lows. Maybe the hope of Christmas bumps up against the uncertainty of a new year. Maybe celebrating with family is concurrent with grieving those who are no longer here. Maybe your tears of joy mix with tears of pain, maybe your gift-giving is marked by financial stress, maybe your Christmas carols carry notes of sadness. Still, the truth remains: The highs and the lows are woven intimately together into the tapestry of our lives, and we need to make space for both.
The greatest comfort during the holiday season, or any season for that matter, is that we serve an omnipresent God. One who came to earth so He could be Emmanuel, God with us. He is Emmanuel, whether we are high in the heavens or down in the grave, as Psalm 139:7-8 reminds us.
I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
Psalm 139:7-8 (NLT)
If we let Him, I believe God will allow our time on the mountaintops to give us strength to walk through the valleys. He will use our time in the valleys to give us joy and gratitude on the mountaintops. Both mountaintops and valleys present opportunities to know Him more.
We learn to lean on Him in the valley: “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me” (Psalm 23:4).
We learn to praise Him on the mountaintop: “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens! Praise him from the skies!” (Psalm 148:1).
In both places, we learn to trust that He goes before us and that we are never alone: “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:8).
So, this Christmas season, whether you find yourself on a mountaintop, in the valley, or somewhere in between, take heart. In Christ, we have the power to hold both grief and joy at the same time because He is holding us.
He is not confined by time or place. He is limitless, omnipresent, gracious, and compassionate. He is walking alongside us, holding us, guiding us, protecting us. Indeed, Emmanuel holds all things together. And that includes us.