The Experience of Prophet Elijah
One of the most moving biblical stories about the wilderness experience is that of the “Prophet Elijah”. He had just been engaged in some mighty acts of faith which put his life at risk, so he responded by heading out into the wilderness. Immediately after making his first complaint to the Lord, Elijah goes to sleep—he’s exhausted from his battle with the false prophets and the fears that now plague him. When we wield a lot emotional energy it drains us of physical energy also, so when we reach this point we desperately need to take time to rest.
Before God converses with Elijah, He first attends to his physical needs—food, water and rest. Obviously, it is possible to over-spiritualize our needs and our experience (think about that) so sometimes our first priority should be to take care of our physical well-being, that we might be strengthened to face the inner journey that lies ahead. A little exercise, good sleep and good food can go a long way in the desert; though these things won’t necessarily resolve the sense of alienation from God, or the disconnection from faith, they can create the conditions for a more helpful engagement with those spiritual issues.
Elijah tells his story to God. He tells Him of his pain, his anger, his fear, and his self-pity. He tells God his story, twice! Sometimes we need to keep telling God our story over and over until a shift happens—by the way, God is robust enough to hear our anger and our disappointment as often and as forcefully as we need to express it. It can also be helpful to find a close friend with whom we can share our story (preferably someone who has experienced the desert as well)—someone who will listen non-judgmentally, without trying to “fix things”, but who can pray for us and encourage us, and check on us from time to time as to how things are going.
Elijah discovers that God is not in the fire or the earthquake or the rushing wind, but in the “silence”. God is not just in the major events of life that are often considered significant, but also in the small and quiet moments—that is when grace most frequently comes to us. That means, in the desert it is important to create moments when we are still before God, even if we have no expectation of God’s presence, and cannot or do not even want to pray. The stillness can allow things just to settle for a bit, and enable us to pay attention to what’s happening in our lives. Go for long walks, breathe deeply, smell the roses, and behold the beauty of God’s creation and quietly let Him minister to your soul in His own way.