Running has been a part of my life for years. I have run for exercise, in competition and as a stress-reliever. A few years ago, because of some lingering injuries, I had to stop running and began the difficult transition to walking. Really fast! However I am still a runner in my mind as well as in my emotional psyche. Physically I may not be able to run however, mentally and emotionally, the idea of running can be my preferred escape hatch when dealing with tough life issues. There have been days when running seemed like the best option. Just pack up and go, leaving everything behind. Running away never fixes any problems yet wandering in the wilderness of doubt, unanswered questions and at times despair can be even more difficult.
Elijah walked all of the way to Mount Horeb, which is known as the mountain of God. This was the same mountain in which Moses met God in a burning bush and was given the task to free Israel from slavery. After arriving at his destination, God found him hiding in a cave and asked him what he was doing there. Elijah explained that he had been “zealous” for the LORD and because of his actions there was a bounty on his head. Then God gave him an unexpected assignment. Elijah was to stand outside the cave and wait for the Holy One’s visit. He obeyed and as he stood waiting there came a mighty wind. God was not in the wind. Then came an earthquake but God was not in the earthquake. Then along came a fire, and surely God would be in the fire? We remember the first meeting between God and Moses and the burning bush on this very mountain. Alas, God was not in the fire either.
Once all of those grand gestures were finished, there was complete silence. It is described as a “sound of sheer silence,” and it was then that Elijah knew that God was present with him. God did not show God’s-self with power and might but in the quiet. Why? Elijah had just participated in a show of God’s fire and fury with the prophets of Baal, however now God showed Elijah another aspect of God’s-self, that of quiet assurance. From the silence or soft whisper, God gave him hope and comfort that he was not alone. Something I have come to appreciate about this story is when Elijah felt completely alone; God continued to care for him. God sent an angel to provide him with food for his journey, not once but twice. Why did God allow him to walk 40 days into the wilderness when the angel could have stopped him after one day? I think Elijah needed to wander in the wilderness in order to take the time to wrestle with what God was doing in him and would do through him. He discovered that he could rely on God who was always right in the midst of his wilderness wandering.
Often when I am feeling uncertainty weighing heavily on my spirit, like Elijah, I too want to run away. This time of wilderness wandering feels lonely and can leave us feeling forsaken by God. I think in those times, we are pushed out of our comfort zones to wrestle with our issues to help us grow in our beliefs and trust that God is faithfully with us. I know that nothing changes if I was to run but I can figuratively run away to someplace where my spirit is soothed and restored. Most often I run to the water because that is where God’s presence feels nearest to me and I am most assured of that presence. Elijah’s problems did not go away but through the sheer silence of God’s presence, he could once again face the next minute, hour, day, week… We too can rest in the silence and be assured that God is with us through difficult times so that we can leave our running shoes stored in the closest… at least until the next time we feel the urge to run…