What do you do when you’re disappointed?
Elijah was a prophet in the Old Testament. The word prophet literally translates as one who sees. Has special insight. The prophets were often able to see the direction their community was headed from a bird’s eye perspective. (or, God’s perspective.) The prophets also often took on the role of truth-speaker. They acted as a spokesperson between God and the community. They delivered truth that was sometimes hard to hear.
Elijah saw Israel heading for disaster under the leadership of King Ahab. Ahab was influenced by his wife Jezebel to build a temple for a false god (Baal), and she brought in a large gathering of her own prophets. The people of Israel saw the writing on the wall. They began to worship Baal in order to maintain favor with the king and queen. Elijah had the guts to go against the grain and face the army of Baal prophets. (1 Kings 18)
And he won.
And it didn’t matter. Nothing changed.
Jezebel was so furious at Elijah’s victory that she ordered his immediate arrest and execution. He had to flee into the wilderness. He found a bush, laid down under it, and just asked to die.
It is possible to do the right things for the right reasons and still lose.*
What do you do with your disappointment? Elijah responded in a few ways.
First, he basically gave up. “What’s the point? Just kill me now.” Victor Frankl defines despair as “Suffering without meaning.” That’s what Elijah felt in this moment. “I did all of this, suffered all of this, and for what?”
Second, he felt completely alone. “I am the only one left.” (1 Kings 19:10) He felt abandoned by God and abandoned by people. And when we feel completely alone, we can do a lot of dumb things. We can push ourselves into even further isolation. And we are not meant to live life alone.
God responded to his disappointment. Reading the story, God comes across a little bit like Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi. “Amazing. Every word of what you just said…was wrong.”
Elijah- “It’s all meaningless. We just lost. Just kill me now.”
God’-“Get up and eat.”
It’s sort of like the Old Testament’s version of the Snickers’ commercials. “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”
But God was answering his despair. Elijah felt like there was nothing left to live for. God offered him food because he would need it for the next leg of the journey. Because there was a next leg of the journey. The story wasn’t over.
God also challenged Elijah’s notion that he was alone. Elijah wasn’t the last faithful Israelite. There were 7000 more. (1 Kings 19:15-18) And God also provided a partner for the journey- Elisha. (1 Kings 19:19-21)
God also emphatically told Elijah- “I have not abandoned you.”
The Lord said to Elijah, “Go, stand in front of me on the mountain, and I will pass by you.” Then a very strong wind blew until it caused the mountains to fall apart and large rocks to break in front of 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, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire, there was a quiet, gentle sound. When Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his coat and went out and stood at the entrance to the cave.
In other words, God showed up to him, but not in the way he was expecting. God wasn’t in the wind, earthquake, or fire. God was in the whisper.
I think we can learn a few things from this story.
It’s possible to do the right thing for the right reasons and still be disappointed. (And more often than not, we actually do the wrong things for the wrong reasons, the right things for the wrong reasons, or the wrong things for the right reasons.)
When we get disappointed, we have a tendency to fall into despair and adapt habits and patterns that end up doing us more harm than the original disappointment.
“How much more damage anger and grief do than the things caused them.” -Marcus Aurelius
Elijah’s response here was to just give up. Yours might be different. You might turn to addictions. You might swear to never be vulnerable again or have hope again because if you don’t care, you can’t be hurt again. You might give fully into your disappointment and attack everyone around you. Or attack yourself, over and over.
God’s response to Elijah is the same to us. “Your story isn’t over yet. Take a step back. Get some food and some rest. Get some perspective. Then get ready for the journey ahead.”
There might be times in our disappointment that we feel like God has completely abandoned us. But perhaps God is just showing up in a way that we least expect.
"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.” -CS Lewis”
In our disappointment, it is easy to feel completely alone. But realize there are others that are there for you. There are people that have gone through this too. Reach out. Ask for help. Don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed to do so. We need each other.
God gave Elijah a partner- Elisha. Jesus asked for help from his closest friends at his time of greatest need. Paul had Barnabas, Timothy, Luke…the list goes on.
What do you turn to in your disappointment? Is it helping you process and move forward or is it just deepening the wound and prolonging the grief?