Many years ago, when my daughter was about three years old, we made the long trek from Hawaii to visit family on the mainland. At the end of our trip, we woke up at 6 in the morning to fly home. It was a bit of a milestone because my daughter was finally grown enough to walk and pull her own little rolling backpack, which meant I no longer had to deal with an unwieldy stroller.
We were a little dismayed when we discovered the serpentine line waiting to get through security, but our daughter was a trooper. She followed us dutifully, pulling her luggage like a “big girl”, chatting with us cheerfully, until we finally reached the conveyor belt, approximately an hour later.
Then the strangest thing happened. As we went through the scanner, her little flip flop came off her foot...and she came unglued. Our sweet, easy-going little girl had the meltdown of a century, as if she had become possessed by the darkest demon of hell. Jim had to scoop her up in his arms and carry her the rest of the way to the gate.
Dazed and confused, we tried to calm her down without much success, until it dawned on me: in the rush to get to the airport and the unforeseen length of the TSA line, we had forgotten to feed our sleep-deprived child. MAJOR parenting fail!
Last week, Kevin preached from one of my favorite stories: the showdown between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. I don’t just love the story because of the Karate Kid-like drama of the victorious underdog storyline, but because of the lesson that comes afterwards.
After Elijah upstages the prophets of Baal, the evil queen Jezebel flies into a rage and orders Elijah’s execution. Elijah, fleeing for his life into the wilderness, sinks into a depression and falls into an exhausted sleep. He is awakened by an angel, who feeds him and then lets him continue to rest and eat, before Elijah finally gains enough strength to continue on into the safety of the mountains.
Years ago, I remember Nancy Ortberg teaching on this passage, and she said, “God knew Elijah just needed a nap and a snack.” Just like Elijah, sometimes we can go from triumphant to despondent in a heartbeat. And just like my poor daughter in the airport, sometimes we are caught off guard when things have been going really well and then we crash--all because we’ve neglected some basic needs.
But too often, we won’t admit we need a nap and a snack--or anything else. In our current Real Life sermon series, we’re talking about the things to which people say, “You can’t do that!” One of the things that I think we hear (whether implicitly or explicitly) is, “You can’t be human!”
All our lives we’re told, "You can’t admit your limitations." We’re taught to hide our mistakes in feeble attempts to look like we have it all together or to fend off the shame we feel when we fail. We refuse to ask for help because our ego tells us it communicates weakness.
Who are we fooling? Certainly not God, who created us and knows us intimately. Certainly not ourselves, because we are so acutely aware of our own fragility and weaknesses, we go to Herculean lengths to attempt to disguise them. Certainly not others, who see through our insecurities and arrogance...because they use the same tricks to cover their own tracks.
So why not just come clean? Why not accept the fact that we are human...totally and completely messy, broken, sinful and weak humans? Because God did. And he not only accepted that fact, he accepted US. He paid the ultimate sacrifice in order to make us acceptable. We don’t have to justify our sin, because he justified us. We can be free to acknowledge that we sin and make mistakes, without fear of judgment. We don’t acknowledge this to boast about our wrongdoings, we acknowledge them to confess them, and in so doing, empower ourselves to make things right when we can.
The beautiful ending to the chapter is that after Elijah makes it into the mountains, he literally meets God. God comes to him, not in the wind, not in an earthquake, not in fire, but in a gentle whisper. It is when we stop denying our humanity and our limitations that we stop pretending we are gods and encounter the one true God. It is then that we find our true selves because we can finally hear the truths God whispers to us amid the raucous lies of the world.