Read 1 Kings 19:9-18
“Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ … ‘I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away’ … ‘Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him’” (1 King 19:9,10,18).
I want to begin this post with an important confession: Sometimes I’ve felt sorry for myself when things haven’t gone as I expected, even feeling a certain twinge of bitterness sometimes because I honestly felt like God “owed” me a different outcome.
I’d be willing to bet I’m not alone in this, am I? I’ll be you, too, have reached low points in life when you were ready to join me and Elijah the prophet in our little pity party, haven’t you? Be honest. No one knows about it except you and, uh, well, GOD — and he’s very aware every time we fall into the morass of doom, gloom, and self-loathing that generates such feelings of despair and/or self-pity.
This is one of the most vivid and meaningful Old Testament revelations, I think, of how God is and how he works in our lives, as well as what he expects of us.
Bottom line is probably this: God in his great grace has chosen to love and use us piddly little human beings in his plan for our world and our universe. Sometimes that doesn’t work out the way WE might want. It’s at those times we are most vulnerable to dropping the ball, to missing his plan and doing his will. So it’s at those very times of discouragement or distress that we come to rely on him.
Here are some steps I’ve found effective for dealing with self-pity and the accompanying blues/depression. Take them for what they’re worth and I prayerfully hope they’ll be helpful when you find yourself feeling afraid, worried, or just plain down and out at the way life may be going:
1. Rant to God, just as Elijah did. Do you think trying to ignore your anger, fear, or bitterness will somehow make it go away? If you’re like me, that only puts me in the odd situation of trying to convince God that I’m a “happy warrior” stronger or braver than I really am. If you re-read this passage carefully, you’ll notice that God asked Elijah twice “What are you doing here, Elijah,” and Elijah gave the same self-oriented answer both times.
I don’t know why this process was repeated twice, but maybe it was because God wanted Elijah to realize God really, really knew just how Elijah was feeling and acting — and wanted to emphasize he had something better and expected something more out of the prophet.
2. Wait for God and really listen for his response to our ranting. Oh, I don’t mean you’ll hear voices in the walls or angels’ choruses doing backup singing for the mighty voice of God as it comes booming into your living room. Indeed, in Elijah’s case it was in the silence following some pretty spectacular physical manifestations that carried the “voice” and presence of God to him.
3. Then remember what God has “called” you to do and get on about doing it, even if you don’t feel like trying. God was pretty emphatic in his questioning/questioning and in Elijah’s response/response that it was time to get up and get about doing God’s will. Once you’ve poured your heart out to God, acknowledged your hurt and discouragement, it’s time to stand back up (to “cowboy up” as some Western writer friends of mine would say!) and move on.
4. Never forget that you are not alone — you are part of God’s community. Here’s the part that too many dear, sincere people seem to forget. Elijah was convinced he was the only disciple still left who was seeking God and seeking to follow him. It’s really easy to see only the “box” we’re in — you know that box, right? It’s the one everybody keeps telling us to think outside of. What a shocker it must have been to Elijah, after the narrow escape he’d made from Jezebel and Ahab, to discover there were still 7,000 faithful followers of God in Israel. (Here I would insert a somewhat old-fashioned, go-to-church plug: Find a like minded group of believers where you live right now and start meeting with them regularly. Turn off about 90 percent of the TV preachers you might be tempted to follow. Give your local church your time, best efforts, and — yes! — financial support.)
Hope some of that’s worthwhile for you. It helps when I’m falling into the pity-party trap and taking my eyes of God and his purposes for me.