When the subject of stress comes up I easily identify by recalling a specific time in my life. My career was in growth mode; I had worked hard to earn the trust and respect of many clients and was determined not to let them down. I began my days in the wee hours of the morning to stay ahead of all the looming tasks while doing anything I could to ease the workload of my equally taxed co-workers. Then my husband became seriously ill. Balancing it all was overwhelming. Though I couldn’t afford the luxury of a break, much less a 15-minute lunch, when I found myself on the edge I would drive to a park nearby and silently stare at the greenery until my bulging eyes eased back into my head. Stress.
Trying to manage my time in a healthy way always felt like weakness – I should be able to do it all, all the time, and do it well. But those moments at the park cleared my head. They helped me gain perspective and reset my priorities. The overwhelming demands were put in order and tackled one by one.
I have come to cherish the discipline of intentionally setting aside quiet time alone, long before my eyes are bulging! Even with my recent retirement and this season of less responsibility, I recognize my soul’s need for it. It is where all things fall into proper perspective and align themselves with God’s priorities.
In 1 Kings 18 the Lord’s prophet Elijah humiliated the evil King Ahab by demonstrating the power of God against his 450 prophets and their false god Baal. He wrapped up the demonstration by killing all the false prophets. This earned him the promise of death from Ahab’s wife Jezebel. I find it so interesting that, after witnessing the power of God against 450 of the king’s prophets and his victory against them, Elijah ran for his life. It is so like something I might do. Elijah runs as far as he can and finally collapses under a bush praying, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. I bet his eyes were bulging. This is exactly where an angel of the Lord met him; in the solitude of a day’s journey into the desert.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 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. 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.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.
Wherever we are, regardless of circumstances, we remain under the watchful eye and compassionate care of our Father. I love how Elijah is simply attended to and strengthened. It is only after he is rested and fed that God begins reasoning with him, asking a simple, yet poignant question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah gives God a summary of events (as if He needed one). The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
A gentle whisper, that’s where God was. Not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the gentle whisper. A gentle whisper is near impossible for me to hear when my eyes are bulging or when I’m hangry and tired.
Ruth Haley Barton says in her book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, that times of solitude and silence are “times for noticing – noticing what is true about us in a given moment and then being in God’s presence with the things that we’ve noticed… When we are tired we feel out of control, compelled to constant activity by inner impulses that we may not be aware of… When I am dangerously tired I can be very, very busy and look very, very important but be unable to hear the quiet, sure voice of the One who calls me the beloved. When that happens I lose touch with that place in the center of my being where I know who I am in God, where I know what I am called to do, and where I am responsive to his voice above all others. When that happens I am at the mercy of all manner of external forces, tossed and turned by others’ expectations and my on compulsions.” …Eyes bulging.
Whether it’s five minutes, five hours, or five days, I must intentionally make room to hear God’s whisper.