That strangling darkness.
It’s hard to say exactly when it started. When my soul turned from her adventurous thrill seeking self. Was it that trip many years ago where a faltering plane threatened to fall from the sky, leaving me feeling vulnerable and out of control? Was it that day driving in snow when I could no longer see road nor ditch nor car coming my way? Was it merely watching pain move in and out of other’s lives and mis-appropriating that pain to my own – wondering how and if I would ever survive such loss?
Maybe these little moments just all worked together, like bombs going off in my spirit – slowly shattering my trust and leading me to suspect what lay around every corner. I became a mother, and suddenly had a little life to protect. And slowly seeds of desire for control and fear of the unknown bloomed into a wall of thorns, threatening to strangle me and the adventure filled life God had given me.
I would leave my baby safely in one room and immediately envision the terrifying harm that could come to her if I wasn’t always by her side. It quickly invaded all areas of my life – fear lurking in every corner of my world. We would drive somewhere – anywhere – and the possibilities of our demise were seemingly endless. Panic began to encase me, consume me.
Have you found yourself doing this too? I think we don’t talk about it because it’s embarrassing – or maybe we think we’re just going crazy – but many of us play these mind games to some extent. It’s when the mind games start to rule your life that it gets terrifying.
When trapped inside your own head, where is one to turn? How do you get out of a prison that traps you from within?
God has a way of walking in these dark places. It’s not with a spotlight. And it’s not the thunder and lightning of immediate transformation, although I prayed for that so often – “God just come down and save me from this!” When I look back at my life, especially in the dark places, the footprints of God are silent and gentle.
Elijah – the fiery prophet of God. I look at him, and see a man with no fear. I think of the prophet who walks up to the king who is trying to kill him and challenges him to a duel of their gods. I think of a man who single-handedly took on 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah. I think of the man with enough faith to douse an altar in water while praying for fire from heaven. Imagine praying for God to send fire in the face of an entire nation – and God responding!
The next day, one woman, filled with hate and evil, threatens him. And he gives up – he runs! “He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors’.”
Really, Elijah?! Didn’t just yesterday you experience the power of God come down in FIRE? Didn’t you see the end of a devastating famine in response to your prayer? Didn’t you boldly stand before 850 prophets and a king who has been hunting your life? And now, one woman has threatened you and you turn and run and want to die? How did fear do this to you?
Yup, that’s pretty much me. Minus the fire from heaven and the bravado in the face of hundreds of detractors. Just me – who has seen God’s hand move, who has experienced the touch and presence of a loving God. I may not have lived the big, bold miracles of Elijah, but I have seen God move in ways that confound the mind and make the heart bow in utter adoration. And yet there I was, laying down under the broom bush of fear, waiting for the worst my imagination could summon. Letting the fear consume. Waiting for death.
And God answered Elijah. The angel of the LORD came to Elijah. He didn’t supernaturally reach down and remove his fear. He didn’t even tell him that everything was going to be okay. He told him to eat. The angel prepared food for Elijah! After eating, sleeping, eating again, and traveling for 40 days, he finds himself in a cave, still feeling sorry for himself. Many believe this cave was in the same mountain that Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.
And God comes to him. And God finally speaks.
These aren’t earth shattering words. This isn’t a fresh revelation etched in stone. God speaks one simple question. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Then come raw displays of nature’s power – the earth shattering power of wind, the ground rumbling in a mighty earthquake beneath his feet- but God wasn’t there. Next came the silence.
The winds died, the rumbling ceased, and in that quiet, Elijah heard it again. That still, small whisper of Almighty God asking one more time, “what are you doing here, Elijah?”
My soul stirs in hope at the simplicity of this moment. My raging fear stops cold and lies down at Jesus’ feet. After listening to Elijah’s complaint, God simply points him back to the task at hand. It feels to me like He’s saying, “I’m not done, Elijah! Don’t quit before the story is over. Don’t sit there in your pool of self pity while I have more for you to do! Get up, and do the next thing” In my despair, I had a hard time seeing God. I wanted Him to show up in a bolt of lightning. There were no flashes of mighty power in that moment of time. Instead, all He whispered to me was “keep being faithful – to the calling, to the life I have given you”. He gave me tools to disentangle myself from the vice of fear – that story is for another time. But I discovered life again as I walked through the wilderness, clinging to His still, small voice – my Shepherd’s promises at every turn. Too many to number.
“He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.” (Ps 23)
“His mercies are new every morning” (Lam 3)
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” (Is 43:2)
“…the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Dt. 31:6
Awake my soul and sing! His promises never stop, so let’s keep walking – we will find Him there as we go.