Running away is a curious thing. It’s different, you see, from running after something. When you’re running after something you at least know what you want.  Running away is much different. You know nothing except what you’re avoiding. You aimlessly move forward and are concerned only with creating distance. Before you know it, you find yourself somewhere you never planned to visit.

There are a number runners in the Bible, and while I can relate all too well to each of them, Elijah’s story has been hitting close to home here lately… (lately as in roughly 4 months; yes, there is a correlation between my lack of writing and pace of movement).

Here’s the back-story: in Kings 18 Elijah more or less publically discounts all of the false gods that the people were worshipping. At one point he said to the crowd, “How long will you go limping between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18: 21). I mean, I could stop right there and extrapolate for a year or so, but let’s keep moving along.

For the record, It’d be best to read the chapter as my paraphrasing cannot hold a flame to the actual text. But in a nutshell, Elijah made a wager with the prophets of this other god. He told them to prepare an altar and call on their gods to torch the sacrifice and he would do the same but call on the Lord. And whoever’s god showed up was the true god. So the prophets of this other god were dancing around and calling out to no avail. And Elijah condescendingly mocked them with notably comical sarcasm—who knew prophets could be funny? It goes on to say that though the prophets called out to their god “there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:29) And who hasn’t been there? Calling on an idol and feeling surprised when there’s no response. All too often.

So when it came time for Elijah to call on the Lord, he had the altar soaked with water and essentially begged God to show up.  And he did. Fire dropped down and incinerated every last bit of it—altar, sacrifice, water, surrounding rocks, dust… everything. And when the people saw this, they took note that Elijah’s God got things done and their gods did not. After all this, Elijah had the people put to death all the false prophets. Now the Queen followed this false god and when she heard about this incident she was ready to fight. She sent word to Elijah in her most poignant, sass-laden tone (you know the one; maybe only women are capable of making it… the verdict is still out) saying, “may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow” (1 Kings 19: 2).

 Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life.

Stop. Read 1 Kings 19:1-18 before moving forward:

 Been there before?

The funny thing about running is that you may not even realize you’re doing it until you find yourself in a cave.

 The Lord came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” cue a dramatic, rationalized, articulate, well-reasoned excuse for why he is where he is and is doing what he is doing.  Not that I would know anything about rationalizing and making excuses to justify my actions… I’ll try my hardest to empathize here. After his monologue, the Lord tells Elijah to step out of the cave and talk with him. A huge earthquake comes by, but the Lord is not in the quake. Then a huge fire, and then a great wind, but the Lord is not in those either. Can you see what he’s doing here? Just a few ever-so-subtle reminders that he’s in control of things far grander than the situation at hand. Total ‘God of the elements’ move. Then, in the least suspecting, low whisper, he comes with the same question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Have you been there?

{I forget, all too often and all too quickly, that I can trust him}

The fact is that no matter how articulate and logical my reasoning for running may be, it boils down to a lack of trust. When I’m running, I’m in control. I’m taking matters into my own hands.

 Like Elijah, I could have just experienced the Lord move and work in a mighty way—a terrifying, awe-instilling, and all too personal way. The type you can’t ignore, try as you may, and the sort that cause you to scoff that we call it ‘coincidence’ as if that was sufficient—yet I could turn right around and allow the petty voices of petty men, of a lost culture, of whoever’s talking loudly enough to catch my attention, drown out what I know to be true. Then I become afraid and get to stepping. Uncertain where it is that I’m going, I take matters into my own hands, and prioritize only getting away from whatever it was that got me running in the first place. Eventually, inevitably, I find myself in some cave—a lousy excuse for protection– when I hear: What are you doing here, Sarah?

Elijah is much more articulate than I, though; I generally find myself responding back, “I don’t know. I don’t know why I’m here, what I’m running from, or how I got here. All I know is that I’m here—in my self-made or self-discovered shelter, and I’m hiding.” And I, stubborn to the depths, generally tag my reasoning with a big, fat “and I like it here!”

 Been there?

Here’s the template for finding the caves: {remember the fear is derived from some petty threat of man, culture, who/whatever is talking loudly enough}

I fear _________________________

so I run into a cave of__________________________

which leaves me feeling ________________________________

 {::For example::}

I fear… loneliness. Being idle. Being restless. Being bored. Being sad. Ultimately, that God isn’t enough and I can’t trust him.

So I run into a cave… of busyness. Thrill-seeking. friends on friends on friends. Plans on plans on plans. Good times all the time. Just keep moving and moving quickly. Don’t stop long enough to think, which is of course the death sentence. Compromise.

Which leaves me feeling… happy when I’m surrounded, anxious when I’m not, and exhausted when all is said and done. Distanced from God because I don’t want to seek him through this. I don’t want to because tangible things are a quick and easy fix, and spiritual things are not.  I can control what’s tangible; I’m at the mercy of what’s not. And maybe I fear in some off set chance he won’t  actually satisfy me, or at least like I expect him to, when I need it most. Is there anything more terrifying? So I actually end up feeling restless, exhausted, and dissatisfied; but I continue trying to convince myself that I’m happy and I love my cave.

And that’s just one example. What about fearing failure? The future? Severed relationships? Sorting through your mess? Being unhappy? Being disappointed? Just to name a few…

 We take to running.

So if you can relate in any capacity, join me in remembering how he has provided thus far. Remember how he has shown up in the past—the good, the weird, the unexpected, and the lowest of lows—and wait for that low whisper. Since when has he ever been a God of conventionality? Of course he didn’t come in the quake, fire or wind… far too predictable. May he continue to recklessly thwart all our expectations as he meets us in the cave and invites us to trust him and hop back on the path.

“You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.” –Psalm 145:16

Here’s to being a consistently wrong, frantic and fearful, impulsive and forgetful runaway.

And here’s to laughin’


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