About four years ago, I began to have severe health problems. I was eighteen years old, terrified, and confused. As a child I watched my father navigate not one but two cancer battles. I knew too well the fallout of illness, the brokenness and lack that last well beyond the final doctor visit. I felt that much of my childhood had been dominated by my father’s struggles, and now I entered adulthood wrestling my own. Mentally, emotionally, and physically, I spiraled out of my own control.

It was years before anyone figured out what was going on; during that time I faced debilitating fatigue, fear, pain, and discouragement. I lived in a fog of hurt and uncertainty, and, for better or for worse, I remember little of those years. Friends often tell me stories only a few summers old of which I have no memory at all. Many times in the last four years I found myself wishing I could somehow hit the undo button and live anything other than the painful present.

God is faithful, and He has taught me so much in these years. I have learned about what it means to be saved spirit, soul, and body, to be the recipient of heaven’s authority. But one thing the Lord told me exceeded all else. I’d had a few months of great improvement only to spin out of control again, and that’s when I heard clearly in my spirit: “This isn’t primarily an attack against your health. It’s not primarily an attack on your finances or even your future. This is an attack on your identity.”

God led me to the story of David, a man who faced his fair share of hardship. As I read 1 Samuel, I noted what David went through after being anointed the next king of Israel:

– Found victory over the Philistines, Israel’s enemies
– Faithfully served the king and led his troops
– Was loved by the king’s children but feared and hated by the king
– Spears were thrown: he fled the very palace he was anointed to command
– Feigned insanity in self-protection
– Hid in caves and the wilderness
– Eighty-five priests and their families were slain for helping him
– Was constantly betrayed
– Spared the king’s life—twice—only for the king to seek his death

Finally David departed the land of promise and sought safety among the people he once defeated. Scripture records his thought: “The best thing I can do is escape to the Philistines. Then…I will finally be safe” (1 Samuel 27:1 NLT).

That was it. Right there. A wish that seemed to merit all sympathy. But I believe this may have been a defining moment in David’s life. Why? Because he was not anointed to be safe. He was anointed to be king.

It was David who penned the famous words of Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” (verse 4 ESV). I’ve clung to this truth, but there’s a bittersweet reality to these words. David didn’t say, “Even when I catch a break and avoid the valley of the shadow of death.” He didn’t say, “When a helicopter lands and carries me out of here.” No. I walk through the valley.

I firmly believe that only the thief comes to destroy, that what God gives us is life abundant (see John 10:10). I believe that God always leads us in triumph in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 2:14). And I know that I’ve been offered an easy yoke and a light burden (see Matthew 11:28-30). But I also remember that the Man who uttered that latter declaration died alone on a criminal’s cross. The victory of the resurrection itself came after a journey through death’s valley. Ultimately, my wish to return to the way things were was falls miles short of what He wills for me.

I don’t want to be safe. I want to be king. So I’ll walk through that valley and find the victory on the other side.

Are you walking through a valley, tempted to wish for an easy way out? Romans 5:17 says, “All who receive God’s abundant grace and are freely put right with him will rule in life through Christ” (GNT). What does it mean for you to be safe—and what would it look like for you to be king (or queen)?

Take some time with God and ask for His grace to strengthen you on the journey through. For deeper study on how to navigate hardship, I recommend checking out the Relentless message.