Sometimes I want the sanitized version of life. I call it the “Pottery Barn” version. In this version of life, order and beauty reign. Creamy couches with massive pillows are in living rooms painted in shades of gold. Coffee tables hold perfectly aligned magazines and the odd book or two. And there are flowers – flowers artfully arranged in big glass vases on tabletops. This version has a kitchen in the background, but there are no dirty dishes – just ceramic plates and bowls peeking out of cupboards, like shy children.
This sanitized version is appealing, so appealing. It beckons me and I want to leave this urban center with its nasty homeless people. Yes. I admit it. There are times when I am irritated at the homeless lining the sidewalk every morning and every evening, always asking for more. Times when I tire of these city streets that are never clean no matter how much you scrub; the subway station that always carries the smell of bleach mixed with urine. Exhausted with the never-ending streams of humanity, always there. Mostly, I am sick of the fact that there is so little I can do to change the situation.
Recently I came across a passage in the book of Kings. It’s a passage that I’ve read before, but this time I saw it with different eyes. I never realized how much it spoke to God’s care for our human limitations, for those times when we want a more sanitized version of life.*
Elijah is sick of it all and he feels alone. Perhaps he too wants a life where order and beauty reign. He is running for his life, exhausted and terrified. He stops under a tree and says “I have had enough Lord!”. He doesn’t care if he dies, in fact he asks God to take his life. He knows that he is done, finished. If there had been Pottery Barn in Biblical times, no doubt it would have appealed.
He is met, not by rebuke or disappointment, but by a God who says “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” Reading these words this past week was soul food. Those simple words, said by a God who was not just watching the journey from far off, but was fully present at every step, every stride; a God who cares about our limits as humans.
A Pottery Barn life is a wistful thought, but deep down what I really want is to know the presence of a God who says “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”
“Elijah came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
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.
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.'”
*Story from 1 Kings chapter 19.