I’m sitting in a coffee shop this morning. It’s brand new, with white walls and wooden floors that reflect the light. There’s art in my latte, the smell of cookies in the air, and a dozen or so people scattered around me. During the pandemic, this was one of the things I missed most — the simple joy of sitting in a coffee shop. But rather than the relief and gratitude I thought I’d feel when life started getting back to normal, I sometimes feel numb and weary. You too?
A story that comforts me in this strange season is the biblical one of Elijah and his showdown with pagan prophets. The prophets and Elijah each build an altar and ask their god to send fire. The pagan prophets spend all day praying with no results. When it’s Elijah’s turn, God shows up and shows off. It’s a clear and undeniable victory.
So Elijah celebrates, has a spiritual high that lasts for years, and never experiences discouragement or defeat again. The end.
Elijah gets a threat from wicked Queen Jezebel, runs away into the wilderness, sits down under a tree, tells God he’s ready to die, and falls asleep. So God zaps him with lightning for his lack of faith.
Thankfully, that’s not what happens either.
God sends an angel with snacks and water for Elijah, who eats, drinks, and takes another nap.
What’s going on here? In many ways, it’s the same thing you and I are experiencing in those numb and weary moments. Elijah has been in fight (showdown) or flight (running away) mode. Elijah’s human resources are depleted. God doesn’t rebuke him for this; instead, He provides the rest and resources needed.
We, as humanity, have been in flight-or-fight mode for a long time now too. Maybe you’ve been in “fight” mode as an essential worker on the front lines, a parent suddenly wrestling with at-home schooling, or an employee fighting to keep your job. Maybe you’ve been in “flight” mode because you had to isolate yourself.
As we start to come out of this pandemic, it seems all we’d feel would be joy and gratitude. But the reality is flight-or-fight takes an enormous amount of energy, and we’re exhausted. This doesn’t mean we don’t have faith; it means we’re frail humans. God understands this reality, as He did with Elijah. So how do we help our bodies transition out of flight-or-fight mode?
First, we need to give ourselves permission to feel whatever we do today. If we’re tired, it’s okay. If we’re grieving, it’s okay. If we’re giddy, it’s okay.
Next, we need to ask, “What does my body need right now?” That might be a nap, some good food, and a big glass of water.
Our bodies also need to start feeling safe again. One simple way to do this is by practicing box breathing. Breathe in through your nose for four, hold your breath for four, exhale for four, hold your lungs empty for four. Then repeat a few times until you feel calmer.
Then we can ask, “God, what truth do You want to speak to my heart today?” After his naps and snacks, Elijah goes to the Mountain of God. While he’s physically restored, he’s still spiritually depleted. Elijah tells God he’s the only prophet left. In other words, he’s believing a lie familiar to all of us, “I’m the only one . . . ”
As a response, God tells Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the Lord’s presence” (1 Kings 19:11). There’s a mighty earthquake, wind, and fire, but God is not in any of them. Then there is the sound of a gentle whisper. Scripture doesn’t tell us what the whisper said, but its message is still clear — Elijah is not alone, God is with him. It’s the truth he needs to replace the lie he’s been believing.
And, finally, we can ask, “Who do I need to be in this with me?” After revealing His presence, God tells Elijah to find several men who follow Him too. We’re not intended to do life alone, even though we’ve been forced to in many ways this past year. Reaching out to even one person can make a difference.
Speaking of connecting, a friend just walked through the door of the coffee shop where I am right now. She leaned over to give me a quick hug and, even though it’s safe now, I flinched — another reminder that my body and mind are going to need time to recover. Yours are too, and that’s okay.
Let’s be gentle with ourselves and each other as we make the transition to a “new normal.” Let’s release any expectations of how we’re supposed to respond. Let’s do what God did with Elijah, what He still does with us too — remember we’re human.