God has created us to live in community, but when we go through dark seasons we often withdraw from community and/or find that our community does not understand our pain. It is my prayer that you find a safe community here, where you can be encouraged through God’s Word and through the words of those on similar journeys. I invite you to take a moment to first read and reflect on this week’s Scripture before reading the post. Throughout, I have posed questions that I hope will help you process God’s Word. At the end, there is a spot to leave a comment. I would love for you to share whatever is on your heart, and to read and respond to others.
Lessons from 1 Kings 19
I’m in a very busy season, feeling thepressure of my responsibilities and overwhelmed by what’s on my plate. And,recently I experienced some hurts that triggered my depression. Just as I wasgetting over that, a very close friend passed away. So, I’m tempted to go into my default mode—retreating from God and what I know is healthy for me in order to numb the pain. I needed to be reminded of Elijah and his crisis. Maybe hisstory will help you too.
In Jill Briscoe’s book, Running on Empty, she aptly refers to Elijah as the “pooped prophet.” Elijah is an Old Testament prophet. Generally speaking, it was not easy to be a prophet of God in biblical days. They never came with messages that said, “Hey! You’re doing a great job! Keep up the good work!” More often than not, they were bringing correction from God and warning His people of the consequences of not turning from sin. Such is the case for Elijah. When our story picks up in 1 Kings 19, Elijah has been working hard for God. However, he incurs the wrath of Jezebel, who worships the pagan god Baal, and has threatened him with death. Fearing for his life, Elijah flees. When we encounter him in vs. 3, he is depressed and suffering from suicidal ideation.
We can learn a lot from Elijah’s crisis—especially those of us who are susceptible to illnesses like depression. One of the first lessons is that we can be serving God well and be knocked down by depression. Jill Briscoe comments, “If you take time to read the span of Scripture that journals Elijah’s life and doings, I think you’ll find there was nothing wrong with his relationship with the Lord up to his moment of deep need.” Elijah was in full time ministry, and he was serving God faithfully in this thankless job of prophet. Maybe you’ve been there too. I have. I was responding to God’s call on my life when this bout of depression hit three years ago. But Elijah’s story shows us that serving God does not mean we are exempted from pain, and that depression is not God’s punishment on us for not serving Him well.
But, Elijah’s story also teaches us that there are pitfalls that those of us susceptible to depression need to be aware and take precautions against. One pitfall is not guarding against physical and emotional exhaustion. Elijah had been working hard for God—fighting against the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel—when Queen Jezebel threatened his life. He was tired, physically and emotionally. It makes perfect sense that, after running for his life and after “a day’s journey into the wilderness,” he is exhausted (vs. 4). He’s so exhausted that “he lay down under the bush and fell asleep” (vs. 5).
Doing God’s work can be exhausting. Life canbe exhausting. And we live in a culture that idolizes busyness. Society tellsus, if you’re busy, you must be important. But that’s not God’s will for us.That is why God instituted a Sabbath day. We need to rest. I know that when I’mtired, physically or emotionally, I’m much more susceptible to the symptoms ofmy depression and that there is a snowball effect. If I’m tired, I’m lesslikely to engage in the healthy practices that I know help to manage mydepression, like walking and eating healthy. As author Gary DaLashmutt remindsus, “Scheduling adequate sleep, relaxation, exercise, etc. is not a sinfulluxury. It is a stewardship responsibility so we can be healthy, long-termservants of God and people.” For those of us who struggle with depression,we need to be especially careful that we are getting enough rest.
Do you find exhaustion has an impacton your mental health?
Do you intentionally plan a timeof rest into your day and week?
A second pitfall that Elijah makes us awareof is the problem of isolation. When Elijah and his servant arrive atBeersheba, Elijah leaves him behind and goes off on his own: “he left isservant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness”(vv. 3-4). When he needs a companion themost, Elijah goes off by himself.
Those of us who have experienced depressionunderstand the draw of isolation. It is a major pitfall for me. When I’mfeeling low, I just want to be by myself, and I withdraw from family, friends,church, my support group. I don’t want to bring others down, so I isolate. I don’t have the energy to engage withothers, so I isolate. It’s easier to be by myself, depressed, than expend theemotional energy of wearing the mask that says “I’m fine,” oractually being vulnerable and sharing how I’m really doing. I sense Elijah feltthe same way when he went off to lie under that broom tree.
Do you find yourself isolating inyour depression?
Where do you go to isolate?
Another pitfall that we can learn fromElijah’s story is the danger of entertaining destructive thoughts. Elijah says,”I have had enough, Lord…Take my life; I am no better than myancestors” (vs. 4). At this point,Elijah’s depression is talking and like it always does, his depression istelling him lies. Depression is telling him things will never get better, thathe can’t do it anymore, that the situation is hopeless, and that death is theonly way out. My depression lies to me all the time. It tells me I will neverget better. It tells me that I’m on myown. It tells me to give up.
What lies has depression toldyou?
Never lose sight of this: There is alwayshope. In Jeremiah 29:11, God declares,
“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
When you feel hopeless, cling to God’s words.God never lies.
Do you have a verse that youmeditate on when you’re feeling hopeless?
Elijah’s crisis is helpful in identifying someof the common pits those of us who suffer from depression fall into. It helpsus become more aware of the importance of practicing self-care so that we canavoid these pits. But, his story also offers a comforting picture of how Godresponds to his children in their darkest moments.
First, before doing anything else, God meetsElijah’s immediate needs. God sends an angel to Elijah as he sleeps under thebroom tree: “All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked on hot coals, anda jar of water” (vv. 5-6). Elijah eats and goes back to sleep. Then,”The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said,’Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you” (vs. 7).
God knew exactly what Elijah needed to meethis physical needs in that time of crisis—shelter, sustenance, and rest. JillBriscoe writes, “Knowing everything in advance, He had made a provision.Around the corner of the desert, waiting for Elijah, was a broom tree!…Andwho should meet him there but the angel of the Lord, who had been busy—cookingbreakfast.” Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a napand have a snack. I think it’s also worth noting that the angel touched Elijah.Psychologists have studied the benefits of touch—it can be very healing. Sometimesa hug is just what you need to find the energy to go on.
God’s provisions gave Elijah the strength heneeded: “Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nightsuntil he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (vs. 8). In our times of darkness, God is there tomeet our immediate needs too. For me, this is often God reminding me that it’sokay to rest, that not everything needs to be accomplished right now.
How has God provided for you inyour times of darkness?
We also see that God deals gently with Hissuffering children. God does not rebuke Elijah for his depression or even forhis suicidal ideation. Instead, God tells Elijah that He is coming to visithim: “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart andshattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. Afterthe wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Afterthe earthquake came a fire but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the firecame a gentle whisper” (vv. 11-12). God was in that whisper. He spoke toElijah, and what He offered Elijah was assurance. Assurance that God hadn’tforgotten him, assurance that he wasn’t alone, assurance that He would giveElijah help. For me, this often comes as a word of encouragement at just theright time—just when I’m ready to give up.
How has God gently whispered toyou in your times of darkness?
Elijah was doing his best to serve God whenhe was brought to his knees by depression. James writes, “Elijah was ahuman being just as we are” (James 5:17). In this story, we see a veryhuman man who became fearful, overwhelmed and exhausted—which led to hisdepression. In his depression he experienced hopelessness, had thoughts ofdeath, and isolated himself. Yet, God was right there, providing him with thecare and support he needed to get back to what he was called to do.
The angel said to Elijah, “the journeyis too much for you” (vs. 7). Sometimes the journey truly is too much forus too. And there is no shame in that. I have often cried out to God that it’stoo much, too hard, and I can’t do it anymore. Yet, I’m still here. Each time Icry out to Him, he gives me the strength to go on, if even just for anotherhour before I’m crying out to Him again. And if you cry out to Him, He willgive you the strength you need to go on too. It may not look like we want itto—complete healing or even a nice long break. It may only be for fifteenminutes. But we can cry out to Him again and again. And He will be there in thegentle whisper.
If something in this week’s post resonated with you, please comment below. We would love to hear from you!