Elijah fled into the desert to die. This is the part of today’s story from 1 Kings that stands out for me, right now. He didn’t plan on coming back. He was done, and he told God so. He said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” He was, quite frankly, suicidal.
Elijah said to God, “take away my life,” and he forced the issue by laying down under a broom tree in the wilderness. He was a day away from any human help. He had no food or water, and the desert began to suck away his essence with its extremes of heat and chill.
We may wonder at his motives. Was he throwing some sort of temper tantrum? Was he daring God to rescue him? Maybe. But I think he was just simply done. Full of despair and a sense of profound failure, he was just ready to have his life end.
Even God’s prophets – even God’s most holy messengers – are driven out into the deserts of hopelessness and despair. God doesn’t give us a gentle, well-marked path when God calls us. God gives us a few cryptic directions and pushes us into impossible situations. The results are usually not what we have anticipated, and mostly not the unequivocal successes we would expect from a God-driven venture.
Millions of COVID deaths, planetary climate crisis, the invasion of Ukraine, shootings, emptying churches, friends and family sick or dying, strained medical systems, overwhelmed medical workers and school personnel – all this is working on us, directly and more subtly, all the time. The desert is just around the corner. Overwhelming despair is a breath away. In fact, you may be in and out of the desert several times in a single day.
Elijah gave up. And, you know, It’s all right to give up. It’s okay to say, “I am no better than my ancestors, kill me now.” It’s all right to let yourself succumb to the desert. Elijah succumbed. He lay down. He went to sleep. He gave himself up to the experience of helplessness, bitter anger, and despair.
Just be aware, when you give up, that that isn’t the end of the story. God came in God’s cryptic way and put food and water near Elijah’s head. The answer to, “kill me now,” was “no.” But it’s not like a clear path then opened up. What did God want from Elijah, this holy and much put-upon prophet? God didn’t give him much to go on, just a little crumb of hope. “You’ll need food for your journey,” said the angel. And that was pretty much it.
Pay attention to the little gifts God puts next to your head while you sleep. It will probably be just a little food and water. It won’t be the solution to the problem of diminished attendance on Sunday mornings. You won’t learn, in a bolt of insight, how to address racism in your community or how to put an end to the overwhelming crises of our time. You’ll get just a little crumb of hope that shows up for no good reason at all. You’ll get something that sustains you for a journey across uncharted land that proceeds one step at a time.
You will still have to make the long trip to the mountain of God. It won’t be easy. And even when you are there you probably won’t get all the answers you crave.
But here are a few things you can know.
You are loved.
There will be little crumbs of hope near your head when you wake.
You are God’s own beautiful creature.
And, while you may not ever know the purpose or God’s next dream, there is one, and you are part of it, part of what will make it happen.