|This archival photo shows a wringer|
washing machine, perhaps the
origin of the phrase, "Going
through the wringer."
The clothesline? Really? Yes, but that’s fodder for another post. My mom had a wringer washer. She’d remove just-washed items from the basin and run them through the wringer to remove most of the water. (Not a good place for fingers.)
I wonder: Have you ever had a time in your life when because of work demands, or life in general, you felt like you’d been dragged through a wringer like this?
Recently a friend mentioned feeling mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. I’ve been there a couple of times. During one particularly stressful period at work, I had pushed the so-called envelope as far as it would go. Physically depleted, I wound up with an illness that required heavy-duty medication and physician’s instructions to stay home and rest.
I did as advised, determining to salvage the time by catching up on reading I’d been putting off. For several days I’d sit down with a book, read a paragraph or two, and promptly fall asleep for a couple of hours. During those days I didn’t read nearly as much as I’d hoped, but got much-needed rest so I felt renewed and recharged when I returned to work.
Thinking about mental and spiritual exhaustion, I love the biblical account of Elijah in 1 Kings 18-19. In case you’re not familiar with the story, feisty prophet Elijah singlehandedly confronts hundreds of false prophets to a showdown. Elijah and the imposters prepare sacrifices on altars and then call upon their respective deities to consume the sacrifices by fire.
Despite elaborate demonstrations and even self-mutilations, the false prophets’ “gods” fail to respond. Elijah, after demanding to have his sacrifice and altar drenched with water three times for emphasis, calls upon Jehovah God and sees the entire offering instantly consumed – even the water in a trench around the altar. The false prophets, deceptions exposed, are then executed.
Next Elijah accurately predicts a torrential rain ending a three-and-a-half year drought. Quite an amazing day for the lonely ambassador for truth. A great demonstration of faith. But right after the downpour, someone informs Elijah evil Queen Jezebel has ordered his death.
That is the proverbial straw that breaks Elijah’s back mentally and spiritually, and he takes off running. He’s reached his limit. “He came to a broom tree, 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 tree and fell asleep” (1 Kings 19:4-5).
However, rather than chastising Elijah for having weak faith (as many preachers have accused him in their renditions of this story), God sends angels to minister to him, feeding him and letting him rest. “All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’… He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time…and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you’… (1 Kings 19:5-8).
So why, after defeating hundreds of false prophets and predicting a miraculous shift in weather, does Elijah head for the hills at the news of Jezebel’s threat?
For starters he was human. Years ago Dr. Archibald Hart, in his book, Adrenalin and Stress, explained during major events in life – good and bad – the body’s stress hormones are activated. Enough stress, regardless of whether it comes from positive events like marriage, getting a job promotion, buying a house or becoming a parent, or negative events like financial hardship, the death of a loved one or losing a job, and we can become tapped out physiologically. It happens.
Elijah also must have felt as one of his successors, John the Baptist, would feel centuries later – like a lone voice crying out in the wilderness. He said, “’I have been very zealous for the Lord God almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me’” (1 Kings 19:14). Honestly, can you blame Elijah for reaching the end of his rope?
The good news is God did not denounce or discipline him. He understood the prophet’s physical limitations, letting him rest and feeding him. Then, when the prophet was restored, God said in essence, “Okay, Elijah, get back into the fray. And contrary to your opinion, you’re not alone!”
So while he might have fully depleted his physical, emotional and spiritual reserves, Elijah hardly lacked for faith in his God. If anything, the prophet displayed more faith than most of us could ever imagine. We often collapse even under minor burdens, while Elijah repeatedly put his own life on the line, trusting God to come through. Which He always did.