What sets you off on the hope-less course? We don’t lose hope in a vacuum. Usually there are a serious of events – sometimes a series of successes, sometimes a series of setbacks – that cause us to careen into the ditch. Sometimes we’re just all tapped out and we don’t see a way over, under, around, or through. It doesn’t really matter what got us “there”. We’re usually only interested in getting out of “there.”
This is probably a good place for a disclaimer. Temporary or chronic depression are very real, need to be taken seriously, and appropriate resources engaged.
What I’m referring to is when we’re just plain ‘ole worn down and weary. The dismal news environment is enough to steer us toward the hope-less ditch. Then there is usually something in our personal lives that helps us tetter right on in. I started this musing in Hope Floats.
The Old Testament has a great story for us. If you ever wondered if the bible is relevant to today, just read the first book, Genesis. You’ll find deceit, murder, incest, rape, and political intrigue, among some good stuff too.
Being a prophet of God was often a totally thankless job. The prophet Elijah, however, was coming off a string of successes. He predicted a drought, which made everyone miserable for three, long years. Then there was the smackdown of the priests of Baal. His honed weather foretelling skills indicated the end to the drought and it rained, and rained, and rained. He was humming along fairly well in prophet-land.
King Ahab (yes, Ahab in Moby Dick is a recycled biblical name) was recounting all of Elijah’s prophetic wonders and exploits to his wife, Queen Jezebel. Jezebel was the baddest girl of them all and she made sure everyone know of her complete disdain for Elijah and his God. Why Ahab would even tell her anything about Elijah, especially the part about Elijah wiping out her favorite priests, is anyone’s guess. Also, he obviously didn’t take into account that no wife wants to hear anything about another man, especially one she hates so much!
Elijah had previous audiences with Queen Jezebel and had told her off, not even a nice way. She was always threatening to kill him and always had some plan of subterfuge in the works. This time however, when the messenger brought yet another death threat from Jezebel, Elijah fled to the wilderness.
Everything had been going so well for Elijah. He was at the top of his career. He had just delivered a decisive blow to the opposing powers. And then he gets a message, which he probably knew was coming, and it completely derails him.
Isn’t it just the way it goes? Everything’s going along OK, if not fine, and “something” comes along that completely throws you off. Sometimes you can see “it” coming. Other times “it” feels like it approaches from nowhere. Maybe it’s something big like a lay-off or a routine exam that suddenly becomes not-so-routine. Maybe you were planning for a long overdue vacation and now you’re thinking maybe you shouldn’t spend that money after all. Whatever “it” is, all of you best laid plans are in shreds and you can’t even think of another creative solution.
When Elijah had run as far as he could go, he parked himself under the nearest broom tree. Do you even know what a broom tree looks like? Basically, it’s an overgrown bush! This is where he decided he would finish out his days feeling deflated, fatigued, and faithless. He was done.
Then the pesky, practical angels arrive. I love these angels. They don’t nag him about shirking his responsibilities. The don’t shame him for being a coward and running. They don’t remind him that he agreed to be a prophet and that he better get back to work. They feed him and he rests. (Note to self: remember to eat, drink your water, and b-r-e-a-t-h-e).
Without getting into all of the juicy details of why he travels forty days and forty nights, Elijah ventures out from under the broom bush and travels to Horeb. He conveniently finds a cave (He’s moving up in the world!) and spends the night. Now this is where our story starts to get good!
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:9).
That’s so God! What are you doing here? Of course, God knows what Elijah’s doing there … nothing. Reminds me of someone who’s up to no good, getting into something they shouldn’t be getting into, or a friend who unexpectedly shows up at your door. Reality check: what are you doing here?
Elijah has such a classic reply:
He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away” (I Kings 19:10).
How would you say it? I imagine something like this: What do you think I’m doing?!? I’m the only one doing anything! This is so unfair! You give me a job to do and I do it perfectly! And then that she-dog queen, whom you don’t seem to mind because you haven’t struck her dead yet, and who has been a constant thorn in my side, is trying to kill me! What does it look like I’m doing?!?
Like the pesky, practical angels, God doesn’t say much but puts on a little display:
He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence (I Kings 19:11-12).
All these magnificent acts of nature and Elijah does not find God there. Elijah is looking for answers and explanations in things he can’t control. He’s looking for God to ride in on a lightning bolt and deliver him. If not that, he’d settle for a new chip implanted in his head to make everything fine again. Elijah wants to do something or for God to do something … anything!
But the answer isn’t in the all of the natural drama. The answer is in the silence.
The shift is so subtle, we almost miss it. God asks the question again, What are you doing here? Elijah’s answer doesn’t change, just like his circumstances haven’t changed. But his heart has changed. His perspective renewed, Elijah picks up where he left off, reminded that there is still work to be done.
Running, hiding under a broom bush, getting caught up in the busyness and drama, fretting and stewing over everything that, in reality, we have very little control does not serve us or help us in the least. Listening to the silence of our hearts, we find the God who is closer than our breath and who will strengthen us for whatever path we’re on or wherever our journey leads.