18 May 2020 – ‘The straw that broke the camel’s back’

We have been clapping on Thursday evenings at 8pm for NHS and Social Care workers who have done a magnificent job under very difficult conditions in helping to care for the most vulnerable people in need during the corona virus pandemic.

This is an expression of our appreciation for them, but it will ring very hollow if the appalling terms and conditions under which some of our social care workers serve are not greatly improved in the not too distant future. Time will be needed for the emotional and mental health strains some have experienced to be healed. There are no quick fixes available.

  1. The problem that overshadows everything (I Kings 19:1-2)

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, ‘May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.’

Israel in the time of the reign of Ahab and Jezebel had been living under a reign of terror. Anyone who opposed the regime lived with the fear that they might be one of the next targets for elimination. In such a climate Elijah was the spiritual leader of the nation. The crisis had lasted more than three years.

A price had been put on Elijah’s head so he had lived in isolation in a rural location east of the River Jordan, prior to enforced isolation in a house in the village of Zaraphath outside the city of Sidon, in the neighbouring country now called Lebanon.

The government in Israel had wanted him dead or alive and had issued an arrest warrant to all the neighbouring countries (I Kings 18:10), but his location was never discovered. He had returned to take a one-man stand against the tyrannical regime and its priests on Mount Carmel in north-west Israel and won with God’s help an astonishing victory against all the odds.

However, the emotional strain of all his labours must have been enormous. The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was the message from the tyrannical Queen Jezebel that he was next on the execution list. Elijah had been top of the list for some years already, but this simple reminder tipped him over the edge.

We all have our limits. When we are getting dangerously close to the edge we really start to struggle to do tasks we would normally take in our stride. We need to watch for the warning signs and take action mainly in the form of getting help for ourselves or others close to us to bring us back to a place of safety.

These mental and emotional health struggles are real and can happen to anyone. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke recently in an interview released today about his own struggles with mental health problems last year. He was grateful for good friends who advised him to seek medical help for his condition (BBC News website 18 May 2020). If you are struggling with your emotional or mental health, please don’t let it continue. Instead seek help to assist you in addressing this problem.

  1. The darkness of his emotional night (I Kings 19:3-5a)

3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘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. (I Kings 19:1-5a)

Justin Welby in the interview mentioned earlier continued his comments expressing his concern for the future wellbeing of our country: “As we will see as the recession takes hold, loss, grief, and anxiety are traumas. And trauma has to be gone through. You can’t do it just with the stiff upper lip.” He said the whole country had been “compulsorily fasting” and that had caused “huge suffering” for many.

Asked how he hoped Britain would recover after the coronavirus crisis, he said: “We don’t do it with austerity. We don’t do it with class fighting. We do it with community and the common good. And we’re not afraid of spending money that will produce a better society.” Take time to read the words of this Bible passage slowly in I Kings 19:3-5a and see what a dark place Elijah was in. What was Elijah missing here?

(i) Sleep: we all need sufficient sleep. If you are overtired and cannot get a proper sleep – you probably do need to see the doctor to check that there are no underlying causes for your disturbed sleep pattern.

(ii) Perspective: when our emotional and mental health is in a difficult place, it is impossible to get a right perspective on our lives and especially on any difficulties we face. They might appear so enormous that we are overwhelmed. Do you need to seek help? Maybe it would be the right thing in the first instance to talk with a family member or a trusted friend who can give an honest opinion on your state of well-being?

What is most important is that God wouldn’t leave Elijah in that place; neither does He want you to cope with your struggles alone. He can help us come through to the place of restoration, but first He walks with us in the ‘valley experiences’ as we journey towards healing and restoration.

Our song for reflection today is: ‘O love that will not let me go’