I’ve Had It
To understand Elijah’s plight, we have to back up and remember the rest of his story. For years, Elijah has been large and in charge. He stood before Israel’s wicked king, Ahab, and declared, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” He cried out to the Lord over the dead body of the son of a widow, and he revived. And he sent for and gathered all Israel to meet him at Mount Carmel for a showdown. Elijah was the only prophet of God left. Queen Jezebel was the hostess for 450 prophets of Ba’al and 400 prophets of Ashe’rah, providing them with a place to sleep and food to eat.
Two bulls were sacrificed, butchered, and laid on wood. Elijah challenged them, “You call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, that One is God.” The prophets of Ba’al and Ashe’rah called and called, but there was no answer; no fire.
The Elijah had the people fill 4 jars with water and pour it on the bull and the wood, and then he had them do it again, and a third time. Water ran around the altar and filled the trench around it with water too. Then he called on God to answer so that the people Israel would know that he was the Lord, and fire fell and consumed the bull, the wood, the stones, the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. The people fell down and worshipped the Lord.
And Elijah had the 850 false prophets seized and killed. Our Scripture passage picked up this morning when King Ahab got home and told Queen Jezebel what had happened. And she was angry. She swears that by the end of the next day, she would do the same to him as he had done to the prophets who had eaten at her table.
Afraid, Elijah dismisses his servant, he can’t imagine needing him anymore, and takes off into the wilderness. All day he walked through the sand in the heat with no shade, and as night fell, he sat down under a broom tree, a desert shrub. And he has had it. “It is enough; now, Lord, take my life; for I am no better than my ancestors.”
I’ve had it, God. I have tried and tried to lead your people, Israel, back to you. I thought surely that once and for all the display at Mount Carmel would drive out all doubt that you are the One True God. I have stood up for you, warned for you, explained for you…and now, I am tired. Jezebel wants me killed? I just don’t have any energy to fight back.
In the 70’s American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger coined the term “burnout” to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in “helping” professions. Elijah was burned out; like a building that has been ravaged by fire, the structure is still there, but the insides are charred and empty. We have all been there, with various degrees of fire damage.
When we begin to burn out, we compare ourselves to other people – to our parents or our siblings or our coworkers and we minimize our accomplishments….”I’m no better…” said Elijah, “than my ancestors.” When we are burning out, we exaggerate our problems, “I am the only one who is still faithful to you, God, there’s nobody else…,” says Elijah, “…and they want to kill me.” In reality, he has just reminded Israel of the power of the One True God in the showdown at Mount Carmel, and there is only one person out to get him, and she sent a messenger to him to tell him she was going to kill him…you know, if you get a message from someone that they are going to kill you, that person is probably really mad at you and would like to scare you and hopefully never see you again, but it seems to me that Jezebel would have sent someone to kill him if she had wanted him dead. When we are burned out, we give up on our dreams. Elijah is beyond singed, he is completely burned out. He’s had it. Done. He prays that he might die, and he lays down and goes to sleep. He has no strength to go on.
God doesn’t accept his resignation, though. God provides food and water, for 40 days and 40 nights as Elijah makes his way through the wilderness to Horeb, the Mountain of God. That is the good news of this story for you and for me. God doesn’t accept our resignation. There is restoration after burning out.
And it starts with taking care of our bodies. Rest. Water. Food.
Then God asks, “What are you doing here?” In order to heal, our wounds need air. Elijah vented, “I tried, God, I did. I worked hard and I sacrificed. No one appreciated me. Now they want to take it all away.” When we have had it, the first step toward healing is to take care of our bodies, to rest and rehydrate and eat nourishing foods. The second step is to ventilate our wounds, to share with God our tale of woes. Rev. Rick Warren says of Elijah’s exchange with God, “God wasn’t shocked with Elijah’s griping. He wasn’t shocked with the way he felt. When he said, “God, I’m angry and I’m bitter and I’m depressed and I’m lonely.” God wasn’t surprised. God didn’t say, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” He listened. God knows your feelings better than you do. He wired you up. He just wants you to understand them and by talking them out it helps you get in touch with what you’re feeling and thinking. God just says, “I’ll listen as long as you want to, until you run out of words.”
And then God says, “Go, stand on the cliff.” Elijah went out on the cliff and the winds blew, the earth quaked, the fire burned…and then in a still, small voice, not more than a whisper, Elijah knew God’s presence with him, calling him out of his cave of hiding back into the world to serve.
Do you find yourself muttering “I’ve had it”? Be honest with yourself. Are you getting enough rest? Are you drinking enough water? Are you eating what your body needs to be healthy and nourished? Start there. There are apps that will help you keep track, or ask someone to be your accountability partner. And then, open up to God. Sit down and write God a letter, or stand in the shower and talk, or go for a walk or a run and let out the bitterness and the anger and the hurt and the frustration. Give your burned places air time.
And then, go stand on the cliff – get in nature – go down and watch the Mighty Mississippi roll by, drive out to Pinecrest and stroll through the woods, stand on the beach and watch the waves crash, or hike up a mountain and look out over the land below – and realize that God is God, and you are not God. The winds of life will blow, the earth will quake under your feet, the fire will burn and you will get burned…and in a still small voice, not more than a whisper, you will know God’s presence with you, calling you out of your cave of hiding back into the world to serve. Amen.
This sermon is based in part upon Rev. Rick Warren’s “Avoiding Personal Burnout”