“I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”
-1 Kings 19
If you find yourself saying, “I’m done.”, you’re in good company. If there was a Bible Hall of Fame, Elijah would have an entire room dedicated to him. Elijah is one of two people in the Bible who were spared death itself. Many Jews set a place for Elijah at their Passover table to honor him. When Jesus was transfigured (shifted from human-form to God-form) for a few disciples on a mountain, Elijah and Moses also appeared and conversed with Him. As far as humans go, Elijah is a big deal.
In this story, he is done with living. He’s had enough. He took actual steps to end his life. He ditched his traveling companion (a lesson of its own!) to go a day’s journey into the desert alone with the spoken intent of dying there. He literally lay down to die. Elijah was suicidal. God stepped in for him. Why him and not your friend or loved one? Who knows? That’s one of those mysteries. Perhaps it was to give us a story to be passed down telling us that we are in good company when we get to those low points in life. If you’re at a place of surrender, carrying more than you can handle, we have this story telling us, “That’s a part of being human!” The highs and the lows are a part of it. It’s not weird. You’re not weaker than you should be, or wrong or bad for feeling the darkness. Elijah was there.
The old cliche, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”, simply isn’t true. We have the stories of Elijah, Jeremiah, and King David that show them all confessing that life was too much for them.
In Elijah’s story, the angel of the LORD speaks. When he speaks in the Old Testament, it’s usually God Himself speaking. God says, “The journey is too great for you.” That’s exactly the opposite of, “I won’t give you more than you can handle.”
He gives Elijah bread and water. Elijah eats, drinks, and takes a nap.
A few thoughts from the story:
First, I’m thankful for these ancient stories; real people in real places dealing with real struggles. These are ancient eastern stories, meaning we’re not going to get conclusions drawn for us or a list of bullet points or disclaimers. You have to interact with these accounts and insert yourself into them. That’s when they come alive. I’ve always been fascinated by what they offer us if we just take some time to think about them and invite God to speak through them.
Secondly, God says, “Have some carbs… life is tough.” There’s something soothing about God saying, “I see you… I know life is hard… Sometimes it’s too much for you to go it alone.” Then, to hear Elijah, looking forward into my life a few thousand years later, saying, “I see you, Alex. Sometimes it’s too hard for you. Sometimes you get more than you can handle!” That’s way more comforting to me than a false cliche. Someone tilts their head and says, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Sorry- NOT helpful to me… never has been.
Finally (for this piece, but there’s way more to mine for), the bread and water work on two levels. First, God gave Elijah physical means to meet his need. Thousands of years ago we get this message of eating enough and getting enough rest during low points. Maybe the most spiritual thing you could do right now is to eat some cheesecake, take a nap, and realize that it’s completely human to feel like your life is a flaming dumpster and you can’t handle it. More likely, a healthier food choice would be better! Regardless, sometimes we just need to eat right, rest up, and agree that it’s just too hard for us. Just knowing it’s OK to be in that place for a bit can be freeing and life-giving.
The bread and water have a symbolic element as well. They point to the Presence of God. Jesus describes Himself as the Bread of Life. He also compares connecting with Him to drinking from streams of Living Water. So often in scripture, during times of great need, God has to provide daily bread and water for His people. He also, time and again, refers to connecting with Him as having bread and water for the soul. Psalm 1 compares scripture with water and Jesus talks in terms of the Word of God being the bread we really need for life.
Through this ancient story, we learn a few lessons that are vital to enduring the hills and valleys of life:
- You will get more than you can handle.
- Don’t isolate yourself from your traveling companions.
- Sometimes you just need to eat well and rest.
- Learning to seek the Presence of God is a must, especially in times of great stress.
**If you really do have thoughts of suicide, please get help. Even Elijah needed help from something outside of himself or he would have ended his life. There is no shame in reaching out. It’s admirable and respectable to admit that, like many spiritual champions in the Bible, you’re at a moment where you can’t go on any longer and need someone to help you. The national suicide prevention number is 1-800-273-8255 or CLICK HERE. After the right intervention, Elijah continued his journey with purpose and fulfillment, you can too!