“But he [Elijah] himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.”
– 1 Kings 19:4-8
I have unanswered prayers
I have trouble I wish wasn’t there
And I have asked a thousand ways
That you would take my pain away
You would take my pain away
“Your Hands” – JJ Heller
When my world is shaking, heaven stands
When my heart is breaking
I never leave your hands
“Iris” –Goo Goo Dolls
“The history of liberty is a history of resistance.”
–Woodrow Wilson, 1912
Elijah had just accomplished a mighty feat of resistance: standing for the God of Israel against all the prophets of Baal. The people turned and declared that the LORD is God. Eijah’s resistance led to the people’s liberation from false worship.
And then Elijah collapsed under the weight of suicidal ideation.
Battle takes a toll on our bodies and brains. When we fight for liberation, we fight against oppression, lies, abuse, power-over, enslavement—all of which can be sources of trauma. Our resistance work can weaken us; more so, it can traumatize or re-traumatize us. Collapse is to be expected. Don’t be surprised or afraid when it comes.
I’ve lain down with Elijah, closing my eyes to escape into darkness, praying it would all go away. I’ve wept in those moments—kneeling in the shower, flung onto my bed, smashing a punching bag—“God, where ARE you in this?”
God was always with me in the darkness. In the battles that seemed unwinnable, in the tears that wouldn’t stop, in the aching for it all to end. With a ministering presence, God touches me gently and says, “Get up and eat.” Sometimes, it’s a reminder to eat cottage cheese for the protein or to swallow my vitamins with a big tumbler of water. Sometimes, it’s a nudge to feast on Scripture at a table in the presence of my enemies and to wash it down with a swig of Jesus’s overflowing cup of suffering. Whether the darkness is a blissful blackout or shadows leering over us in the valley, God is with us.
Resistance can be exhausting, which is why we have the phrase “resistance fatigue,” meaning burnout from continual protesting. Sometimes the insurmountable mountain of Horrifying Issues wears us down. And that’s okay. Sleep. Get up and eat.
Resistance can cause compassion fatigue for people-helpers who sap themselves to care for others, and it can cause secondary/vicarious trauma for those who bear with others’ heartbreaking stories. Resistance can cause first-hand trauma as well: fighting for your own breakaway from an abusive relationship or a destructive church, obtaining a pink slip for facing a bully at work, getting tear-gassed at a protest. Sleep. Get up and eat.
You cannot make sense of things or make good decisions when you are burned out or experiencing trauma activation in your brain and body. Sometimes even the fiercest prophets get depleted and lose perspective. Like Elijah, you can let go of the battle, run to the wilderness, and honestly express your total desperation to God. Sometimes even the boldest generals must regroup in order to face the rest of the war… to victory.
God holds us in strong hands when all we can think about is endings, when we resonate with the Goo Goo Dolls: “Yeah, you bleed just to know you’re alive.” When you feel like self-destruction, open your eyes to God’s touch in self-care. Eat. Drink. Sleep. Resist. Repeat.
Becky Castle Miller serves on the pastoral staff at an international church in the Netherlands. She and her husband convey their five kids around town by bike. Becky is finishing her master’s in New Testament at Northern Seminary and is the co-author of Following King Jesus together with Scot McKnight.