How do you deal with disappointment?
All of us have faced disappointment in one way or another. The promotion we didn’t get at work, the relationship that didn’t work out, the job application we never heard back from, the cake we baked that fell flat in the oven.
Some disappointments are small and easy to deal with; others are much more significant. One example of a significant disappointment can be found in the life of Elijah the prophet of God in the 9th century BC. At that time, God’s people were split into two kingdoms, Judah in the south, and Israel in the north. Israel had wandered away from God and started worshipping another god called Baal, encouraged by a wayward king called Ahab and his wife Jezebel.
Elijah had confronted the prophets of Baal on the top of Mount Carmel. He challenges them to a showdown to see whose God is real: Baal or the Lord. And God responds dramatically, showing once and for all that God is God, and that Baal is no god at all.
It’s a major high point for Elijah and you might expect great things to follow. As Elijah comes down the mountain, I’m sure he expected a message from the royal family to say they were wrong, repenting and turning back to God.
He does get a message from the queen, but it’s not an apology, it’s a death threat. She’s furious at Elijah and she is out to get him. You can imagine the disappointment that Elijah must have felt. Everything seemed to be going so well, only to go so wrong. So we read in verse 3 of 1 Kings 19: “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.”
Worry and anxiety overtakes Elijah. And disappointment turns into something much more painful: depression. Elijah abandons even his servant and heads off into the wilderness to die. “I have had enough Lord” he prays.
Have you ever prayed that prayer? “I have had enough Lord”? Perhaps you have even prayed that prayer this week, or even today. Disappointment leads to depression, hopelessness and despair. Elijah is at a crisis point. His mental health is in pieces. If you have ever felt that way, or feel that way right now, take heart. Even Elijah got to that place of depression and despair. It is not a sign of weak faith. It’s a sign that faith might be the only thing holding us together.
Mental health crises happen to Christians too. It happened to Elijah. So let’s learn from Elijah what can help when our mental health is at a low ebb.
Look after your body
The first thing to note is that God meets with Elijah. He doesn’t berate him for a lack of faith, or give him a long theological lecture. He sends his angel to minister to Elijah. And before God starts to deal with Elijah’s mental, emotional and spiritual needs, he meets Elijah’s physical needs first.
Elijah sleeps. Then he is woken up by the angel who encourages him to get up and eat. It’s not a fancy meal, it is some water and freshly baked bread. Simple, wholesome food that meets his immediate needs. Elijah eats and drinks and sleeps again. Again the angel returns and encourages him to eat some more. “The journey is too much for you.” You are not rested Elijah. You are not ready for what comes next. You need to eat and drink and sleep. You need to look after your body before we can tackle your soul.
I just love the practical care of our Father God here. He created our bodies as well as our souls and he knows what we need. Elijah needed to look after his physical health as much as his mental and spiritual health. And so do we.
Our physical state and our spiritual state are far more connected than we often realise. One affects the other, they are intertwined and impossible to completely disentangle. Our spiritual health or our mental health can show itself in our physical health and the other way around.
What this means is that we need to pay attention to our bodies and our physical health in order to work on our spiritual wellbeing. Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to get some rest. Or take a walk. Or eat a good meal. Or drink some water. There is a deeply powerful spiritual dimension to our lives, and we will get to that in a moment. But like Elijah we need to ensure our physical bodies are in a place where we can do the spiritual work we so desperately need.
How are you today? Is there some physical need that God is wanting to minister to you? Is there something you need to look after in your body so God can prepare you to work on your soul? Do you need to do the profoundly spiritual work of getting enough sleep? Do you need to eat something healthy and life giving for your body, as much as you need to feed on God’s word for your soul? Is there some exercise that you are putting off? Is God calling you to get on your feet so he can get you ready to walk with him?
Many of these things are simple to say but not always easy to do. But God wants to minister to our bodies as well as our souls, and that can be the first step to a deep healing for our mental wellbeing.
But that’s not all, so let’s look at what happens next in Elijah’s story.
Let God speak
Elijah needs to look after his body, but he also needs to let God speak.
God brings Elijah to Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai, where God met with Moses and gave him the Old Testament Law. It’s a very significant place and you might think that Elijah is about to have a powerful and dramatic encounter with God. And it starts to look that way.
God tells Elijah that he is about to pass by. So Elijah stands in a cave and a mighty and powerful wind rushes past. It’s so powerful that it shatters rocks and tears the mountain apart. But God is not in the wind.
Then comes an earthquake that shakes the very mountain and the ground under Elijah’s feet. But God is not in the earthquake. Then comes a fire, much like Moses was seen on the same mountain surrounded by dark clouds and fire. But God is not in the fire either.
Finally comes a gentle whisper, and Elijah recognises the presence of Almighty God in the smallest of sounds and steps out of the cave to meet with him.
You might think that as Elijah is at his lowest ebb, what he needs is a dramatic and powerful encounter with God. That he needs the thunder and earthquake and lightning and fire and tornado. That what Elijah needs is God’s greatness and power and majesty. But God knows that what Elijah needs more than all these things is God’s gentleness.
He could have met with Elijah in the earthquake, wind or fire. But he chooses to meet with him in a gentle whisper.
If we are feeling spiritually low, or emotionally low, or mentally low, we might think we need a powerful and dramatic encounter with God. But like Elijah what we need is God’s gentleness. We need God to deal gently with us.
Jesus was, of course, the best example of this. We seem him dealing gently with those in great need or distress or pain. We hear him say to his disciples and to us:
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)
Jesus deals gently with us, just as God deals gently with Elijah. And as he is gentle, he speaks with him. “What are you doing here Elijah?” It’s not a rebuke, but an invitation. What’s going on Elijah? This isn’t where I have called you to be. What has brought you here?
And Elijah opens up his heart: “I’m done God. I’ve given my all, and none of it has had any effect. I’m all alone and now they are after me too.”
And God speaks truth into Elijah’s heart. I’m guessing that we have felt a bit like Elijah at times. Perhaps a lot like Elijah. Everything has gone wrong and we don’t know where to turn and everything seems hopeless. But here’s the thing. It’s not true.
It wasn’t true for Elijah and it’s not true for us. There is always hope because there is always God. God has not left us or forsaken us, even if we feel like he has. We need to let God speak in his gentle whisper and speak truth into our souls.
For Elijah he needed to hear that he still had work to do. God had more for him to do, and he had plans and purposes for him to fulfil. And things were not as bleak as Elijah thought they were. Seven thousand were still faithful to God. Elijah was not alone. He had others with him and he had God by his side.
What truth does God need to whisper into your soul today? You are not alone. You are not alone in feeling how you do, or struggling with what you are going through. God has not forgotten about you. God has not abandoned you. He is with you and beside you by his powerful Holy Spirit. God has not given up on you. He has work for you to do. He has a kingdom to build and you are part of it. There is more. There is more for you to do. There is more for you to know. There is more for you to experience. There is more of God for you to enjoy.
Will you let God speak truth into your soul and find rest for your soul and healing for your heart and mind?