Posted in Living this Life

When you can’t get out of the cave…

Another arrow pierces the heart. I don’t have any fancy words today. The fact is, it just really hurts. We have watched the world convulse this year. There has been fear, violence, suspicion, sickness, anger – and that all feels so distant when compared to this heaving of the heart.

I know we’ve all been there. Walked through that intangible grief of watching a life implode. We’ve watched the one we respected and honored from a distance fall in a flame of tabloid fanfare.  We’ve seen that dear soul we’ve poured everything into, sometimes it’s your own child, brother or sister… imploding their life with a string of bad decisions. Walked alongside someone as a sister or brother, fought great battles together, until the day when you discover you no longer follow the same Lord. You’ve walked in the fire together, and suddenly they are walking in a fire of a different sort. The heart cries out – not another one?

What do you do when you stand in the smoldering ruins and wonder who is left standing with you?

There’s this story I keep being drawn to – it’s a sub-plot, if you will. Almost an afterthought in the shadow of a larger story. But this quiet little afterthought is shouting loud in my heart right now. I need to put these words right here, if only for my own sake. If only to remind myself of what is true when emotions threaten to reign.

We know about Elijah. The guy who saw a boy come back to life as a result of his prayers and participated in innumerable miracles with God. This Elijah who prayed fire down from heaven in an ultimate showdown between good and evil. This same Elijah – the one who seems so bold and fearless; the one with no reason to doubt God; riding high on the winds of victory – what does he do in the wave of this greatest victory? Well, he runs for his life – afraid. I have always been intrigued by this part of the story, because it feels so… human. So real. So much like something I would do.

Elijah finds a cave and hides in it. And here I sit, in the cave with Elijah, emotions all amuck. Feeling confused, sad, heartbroken – alone.

And God says, “What are you doing here?” Elijah replies with all his pent up evidence against God – “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19)

Do you sometimes feel like you’re the only one left? The only one who really cares in a world gone mad? Sometimes the hits come so close together and the waves of loss build up until you’re crushed by the grief. And you just feel alone. Sitting in a cave with Elijah and me – issuing your complaint against the God of the Universe. That’s where we all have to start – letting yourself face the emotions that threaten to consume. All the anger. The sorrow. The confusion. The questions – all of it.

I’m glad it doesn’t scare God. It doesn’t make Him turn His back in disgust. It doesn’t make Him lose patience with you or even make Him join you in feeling like giving up. Here is what He is actually doing in this sacred moment.

He is revealing Himself to you. Open your eyes and look – you will still see Him. Right here. In this place. But you have to stick your head out of the cave. “The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (1 Kings 19:11).

He is revealing Himself to you. Open your eyes and look – you will STILL see Him. Right here. In this place. But you have to stick your head out of the cave

Go out and look for Him! And He will show up. But not as you expect. Be very careful not to only look for Him only in fire and earthquakes – He shakes our world in a much more subtle, life altering way. He whispers His presence. What could be more intimate than that?

So let’s start there. Take that one step out of the cave, and watch for His presence. Wait for His whisper. Hold your breath in between the sobs, and let His gentle whisper find it’s way into your soul.

But hold on – the story isn’t over! It may feel like that is all, because it is already so rich, so real. Right here – in this holy whisper – this is just the beginning of our healing! This next part is the flower in the ashes that has held my attention for this last chapter of my life. The part I just can’t seem to get over. Two things happen next in Elijah’s confrontation with God that will define the rest of his life.

  • He is given His next step. God lets Elijah have his moment of grief, but He doesn’t let him camp there. After the whisper, Elijah complains one more time about being the only one left, despite his zealousness for God. And God’s response this time is to simply tell him to what to do next. “The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.” (v. 15) There’s more work to be done – get out of the cave and do the next thing.

There’s more work to be done – get out of the cave and do the next thing

And finally – almost as an afterthought – is the crescendo to the entire conversation. Elijah’s complaint against God centers on himself – I have been zealous for the Lord God Almighty…the Israelites have abandoned you… I am the only one left (v. 10 & 14) Do you feel that some days? Just watch the news cycle. Hop on to facebook or twitter and watch the vitriol swirl. Do you sometimes feel like the only one who still cares? Who still longs for truth and beauty and grace and kindness and for Jesus to be lifted high?

  • God sends Elijah on his way to do the next thing. And then He says, “oh, by the way, Elijah. You’re not alone! “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (v 18). You may think you’re the only one left, Elijah, but there are 7,000 others out there! I don’t know about you, but this blows my mind. God has His people spread throughout His land, and just because we can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not strong. Does this breathe courage and strength into your heart like it does mine?

So where does leave me on this beautiful summer morning when the darkness licks at the edges of my soul? It gives me the courage to stick my head out of my cave and listen with bated breath for His whisper. To see His glory. To let His truth be louder than all the taunts leveraged against me in my own head. To let Jesus be bigger and more real than any disappointment or heartbreak.

It opens my ears to listen to His next step. Who needs a voice of encouragement today? Who has God brought into my life today? What is He asking of me? Take my eyes off my own self pity, my own disappointment, those who have let me down, and simply do the next thing.  Because we are not alone! God has His people scattered throughout this beautiful world, and we can lock arms with those who are still faithful and walk boldly forward. Elijah’s next step after his encounter with God was to find Elisha. I just smile at this – how very good of God to bring him a brother during this vulnerable time in his life. Someone to walk with him, encourage him, breathe that life back into him. Someone to carry on after Elijah was gone.

Lock arms with those who are still in sync with you and Jesus. Let Jesus figure out how to handle those who break away. Walk boldly on into the next adventure, take on the next challenge, quiet the accusing mocking voices in your heart, and hear this clarion call: “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1)

I’m glad there are people like Elijah in the Bible. I’m glad I got to sit in his cave with him some this morning – I needed this reminder.

Posted in Living this Life

Friend of Silence

I stood there stunned as I looked at my 8 year old with tears streaming down his face. We thought this would be fun – a fun reward for the many days they had spent on the road with us doing work stuff.

We had a couple hours free in the middle of a whirlwind trip recently, so we asked the kids what they wanted to do. The consensus was to find an arcade somewhere and have some fun.

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And we did. We found the biggest, best arcade we could find. Not only was this arcade bigger and better than many we had been to, it was much, much louder. Like walking into a physical wall of noise. We had a lot of fun, yelled over the chaos as the kids engaged in a Rampage battle and my ‘80’s loving husband impressed us all with his Galaga skills. I leaned over and asked Joshua what he wanted to do next – well, I yelled at him “WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO NEXT?” And he responded by slapping his hands over his ears and bursting into tears.

We quickly found a quiet place to talk. He said “everyone keeps yelling and it’s so loud it hurts!”

I feel your pain, little man. Have you watched the news lately? Or tapped into any form of social media? It seems like everyone has something to say and no-one is listening anymore. So we all just seem to move faster and yell louder…

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Joshua said to me through his tears that day, “can’t you just talk quieter?” So I decided to try. As we went back into the arcade, in the middle of the ear-splitting din, I leaned in and whispered to him. I found that if I whispered right into his ear, he could hear me despite the noise, and I wouldn’t have to yell anymore.

And as a result, I discovered some beautiful things. He could hear me – and it didn’t hurt. My spirit quieted as I whispered through the chaos. And we had to draw close to each other to communicate.

How do you handle the noise? There are definitely days I want to slap my hands over my ears and find a quiet corner to cry in. But by that time, I usually have to make dinner or take a kid to some sports practice, so I kind of shove the feelings in and keep moving.

But what if we just stop? Stop yelling, and try whispering? Draw close to each other so we can hear the whispers from the hearts of those around us? Maybe even hear the whisper of our own hearts? We look for big, mighty things from God, and often get swept away in the wind, earthquake and fire that come before the still small voice of Jehovah. We shout over the wind, try to be the earth shakers, and pray for fire to burn up the evil, but God is not in those things.

“The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:11-13

Did you hear that? Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle at the still, small voice of Almighty God. In this world of sound bytes and Instagram likes, might the truest power lie in truth spoken gently from the Maker of our souls?

“I think there is nothing so startling in all the graces of God as His quietness. When men have raged untruths in His Name, when they have used the assumed authority of the Son of God to put to death His real children, when they have with calloused heart twisted the Scriptures into fables and lies… when they, using powers He grants them, claim universal autonomy and independence, He, this great silent God, says nothing! His tolerance and love for His creatures is such that, having spoken in Christ, in conscience, in code of law, He waits for men to leave off their bawling and turn for a moment to listen to His still, small voice of the Spirit.” – Jim Elliot

What a beautiful wonder those words awaken in my heart! What common sense goodness.

Do you find your heart reeling from the din of voices clamoring to be heard? Do you find your soul growing numb from the chaos that swirls around you?

Maybe rather than pushing away or trying to yell louder, we could try whispering back. Draw near, listen closely – not only to the words, but to the hearts, of those around us. Especially those we disagree with. Hear the fear that makes voices rise to a screech. Listen to the pain that causes those we share this planet with to build walls around their hearts. Draw close, and whisper gentle truth. You will find your own heart softening in the process. You may not agree, but you might understand. When you understand, you will learn to love the heart of the person, and maybe in that quiet place, Jesus will be heard.

Maybe we all just need to whisper a little more?

“We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence … we need silence to be able to touch souls” -Mother Teresa