After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1st Kings 19:12-13
Six months of uncertainty has taken its toll on every member of our family, and we all have our own less-than-healthy coping mechanisms that we employ to mange the tough stuff of life. I eat in the short-run and snap if the pressure continues for too long. Neither of these responses is beneficial. Overeating has never changed anything but my pants size, and freaking out inevitably leads to guilt and increases rather than decreases my stress level.
My husband’s preferred method of managing tension is busyness. He uses activity and work to avoid dealing with realties he doesn’t like. His approach is more constructive than mine (our yard is looking really good). Unfortunately it comes with it’s own set of unintended consequences. Including, but not limited to more stress from all the busyness. All our children take after either their Dad or I when it comes to dealing with the stresses of life, with the exception of one.
This kid does not begin a project or hit the nearest drive-thru in an effort to avoid focusing on the harsh realities of life. Nor do they yell or freak out. Instead they very quietly go to a happy place inside their head and stay there until the storm passes. This works okay if the storm happens to be short-lived, but if the difficulty continues for any length of time, critical tasks are neglected which inevitably results in some unpleasant consequences.
Recently some unpleasantness came home to roost, and we ended up having a long discussion about the importance of facing reality rather than running from it. It felt like a fairly productive conversation and I sent the child off to school feeling pretty positive about my aptitude for giving a good lecture.
My smugness persisted until I opened my Bible and started reading. The passage I came upon that morning was 1st Kings 19. Elijah had been coping with a great deal of stress for a very long time. Elijah’s problems were certainly more pressing and far less first-world than mine. Elijah was a prophet who lived at a time when the people he was called to minister to had no real interest in God or in hearing messages from God.
Elijah had spent the last few years dealing with fallout from a drought that came as a result of the nation’s spiritual disobedience. Food became extraordinarily scarce. When he wasn’t busy scrounging for food and saving a widow and her son from certain starvation he was running for his life from a formidable and extraordinarily evil woman. Jezebel and her weak-willed, equally awful husband both wanted him dead, no matter the cost.
Ultimately the pressure wore him down and found a cave Elijah and hid in it. There he threw himself a fairly impressive pity party. Elijah was loudly asserting his own goodness and grumbling that he was the only faithful follower of God left in the entire world when God showed up.
In classic God fashion, He did not have a whole lot to say. God did not remark on Elijah’s moral superiority nor did He reprimand him for his crankiness and self-absorption. He simply asked (and I’m paraphrasing here) what Elijah was doing in a cave and why he had gotten his head out of the game he had been called to. He calmly corrected some of Elijah’s flawed views, gave some direction and explained where he could go to find some friends and get some much-needed support. Then He departed and left Elijah to get on with his assigned tasks.
This passage tells me two things.
First, God understands exactly how stressful this life can be for His people at times. He is a compassionate God who does not judge us or turn against us when our response to life is a bit too human. Thankfully, God’s love is not contingent on our perfection. It also tells me that the only correct response to stress is to find a way get back to doing that thing we were called to do. Freaking out solves nothing, hiding has never once made an issue disappear and overeating ultimately adds to our stress when we learn our pants no longer fit. The right response to stress is to run to God, look for like-minded people who will support us through our trials and get back to the work God called us to.