There’s this great, dramatic story in the Bible where prophet Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to prove whose God is greater(1 Kings 18). And Elijah wins. Big time. Elijah made all the prophets of Baal look like idiots. Totally discredited them. Well, and then let them be killed by a mob he whipped up into a frenzy. And surprise! He gets put on Queen Jezebel’s hit list.
So no wonder we find the prophet lying under a bush (later in a cave) exhausted, scared and teetering on the edge of hopelessness. He has been a faithful servant of God. A constant and consistent zealot for the Lord. And where did it get him? In a cave, alone and depressed. He hit a wall.
If you’re a runner, you know what it’s like to hit a wall. That concept is not just a head thing, it’s a physical reality. One of the reasons runners carb up before a big run is that they don’t want their bodies to run out of glycogen, which is basically carbs. When your body is glycogen depleted, not only do your muscles not work well, your brain wants to shut down your body in order to preserve energy. Long distance runner Dick Beardsley describes it as feeling like “an elephant had jumped out of a tree onto my shoulders and was making me carry it the rest of the way.
Elijah hit a wall. A spiritual wall. One that I’m sure is familiar to almost all of us—even the non-runners. We hit that I-can’t-do-this-anymore spiritual fatigue.
When a pandemic that we thought would last a few weeks refuses to go away.
When a madman starts a war half-way around the world and nothing we can do, say or even give can stop it.
When we’ve done every thing we know how to do, pulled out all the stops, prayed until the wee hours of the morning and the relationship still fails.
When we’ve given our heart and soul to a job, only to be laid off.
When we become overwhelmed because every time we fix one problem, another one emerges and there’s never any break.
When we can’t see any fruits from our labors and our efforts.
When loss and grief comes in waves and threatens to drown us.
We hit a spiritual wall and don’t think that we’ll be able to go on.
And we’re right. We can’t go on. Not on our own steam. Not if we rely solely on our own strength.
It is God that finds Elijah and nourishes him—not once, but twice—in this scripture. After Elijah collapses under a bush, God sends an angel with bread and water to nourish him for the journey ahead. And then after Elijah walks a very Biblical 40 days and 40 nights he finds a cave to crawl in and sleep.
But God doesn’t let Elijah stay in the cave. Even though Elijah still has some unresolved feelings on how the whole thing played out, God picks him up, has some words and sends him on his way to his next mission.
Know that there are times when we all hit a spiritual wall. And when those times happen, we may need to crawl in a cave for awhile. We may need a snack and some hydration. We may need to whine to God for awhile. We may need a break. Go ahead a crawl in your cave…for awhile, knowing that God won’t let you wallow forever. God has work for you to do.
Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer provides tools and encouragement for the rollercoaster ride of your faith journey. Follow me on Facebook , Instagram and YouTube. You can also follow on TikTok. Get emails to keep up with all that is happening.