A few years ago, I went out for a run one evening that, ironically, stopped me dead in my tracks. I was about a mile into the route, rounding a hill, when I began to tear up. My breathing got heavier, and I had to physically stop running before the tears ran down my face. There was no injury. I didn’t sprain my ankle, twist my knee, or anything else. The issue wasn’t physical. It was emotional.
A few months prior to that run, I had one of the roughest months of my life. I had to provide counseling and grief support to around 80 soldiers and cadets, for issues ranging from cutting to sexual assault. All of that happened in the span of 3 weeks. And it was all brought on a one cadet committing suicide.
I ran myself ragged for those three weeks, doing everything I could to help people process their grief, guilt, and issues. And in that time, I never really gave myself the space I needed to process my own feelings of guilt, shame, and grief.
Until they stopped me dead in my tracks one night months later when I was running.
There’s a story in 1 Kings, where Elijah, this incredible man of God, stops dead in his tracks.
Elijah has just had his life threatened (again), but this time, something was different. Something about this encounter struck a nerve with Elijah, and Elijah ran. He didn’t just run though. Elijah went into isolation – he went into the desert by himself.
He was ready to die.
There comes an important moment in a conversation Elijah has with God there 40 days later. For years, Elijah has had a close relationship with God – the kind that puts him at the center of some of God’s most miraculous encounters. But this was different. In the midst of Elijah’s depression, God asks him: “Why are you here?”
For weeks Elijah has been hiding out, but only now does God stop him to ask why he showed up.
For almost everyone, there will come a moment when you will be at the end of yourself, in the worst way possible, when you will be stopped and asked ‘Why are you here?’
For Elijah, it came after an evil queen threatened his life.
For me it came weeks after a 19 year old killed them self.
Elijah let loose in his answer. He had been faithful for his whole life, only to watch his friends and coworkers get exiled or executed. He lived in the desert for years, in hiding before. Now, he had just proven that God is supreme over the other gods of Israel. And for all of that faithfulness, he is now facing another period of exile and hardship. It was too much.
I didn’t have as concise an answer as Elijah did. I knew that the suicide both was and was not my fault. I carried undeserved guilt around. I knew I did. And I couldn’t let go of it. My answer to God’s question took months for me to get out.
But whether your answer takes just a few moments or a few years, you will find yourself in the next part of the story.
God moved Elijah to the mouth of a cave, where He displayed Himself to the prophet. A huge windstorm showed up, but God wasn’t in there. A firestorm showed up, and still no God. An earthquake shook the cave, and still no God. But in the silence that followed, there was a small voice that Elijah heard.
When you’re depressed, or in the midst of a spiritual or emotional desert, it can be really difficult to recognize that God is speaking to you. Often it’s because our lives have become so “loud” that we can’t hear Him. So we look for God in the firestorm, wind, or earthquake, when He’s been trying to speak to us in a whisper.
While I didn’t have an answer to God’s question that night, I heard that still small voice on the crest of that hill.
If you’re in the midst of hardship, doubt, and feeling overwhelmed, don’t stop listening for God. You may just need to turn down some of the volume of life.
It’s easy for life to feel overwhelming. Everyone, no matter how good or “on top of things”, gets overwhelmed from time to time. Pause and listen for God’s still small voice. Talk to others, and ask for their insight. Ask for their prayers.
And never assume that God is done with you, no matter how desperate the situation is…