Everything he believed in had been shaken - dramatically. Elijah had barely escaped with his life.
Just when he thought he'd put enough distance between himself and his problems, he found himself face to face with an equally tumultuous display of nature. "A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn't to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn't in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn't in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper" (I Kings 19:11, 12 Eugene Peterson, "The Message").
It's that "gentle and quiet whisper" that I've been listening for recently, the intuitive assurance of some constant, present power that will not fail me. I grow more certain, as I listen, that real stability is found within - found in convictions that run so deep no arguments can move them, no circumstances can overwhelm them. I want more of that kind of depth in my life.
Jesus once said that if people heard what he had to say, but then went away not bothering to put his teachings into practice, life would be like a house built on a sandy beach. When the winds blew and the ocean waves beat against that house, it would fall.
But to act on what we hear, to honestly incorporate spiritual ethics and principles into the foundation of our thoughts and actions, that's building on a rock. And that brings stability that nothing and no one can shake.
At one point, my marriage felt pretty shaky. I vacillated between anger and emptiness, between wanting out and feeling I should try harder to make it work. It seemed every time I tried to be more patient and thoughtful, I didn't get much understanding in return.
Turning to Jesus' teaching for guidance, I found a clear directive to love, even if that love wasn't returned in kind. "If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that.... Grow up" (Matt. 5:46, 48 "The Message"). That was a hard pill to swallow. I felt as if I were being held to a higher standard than my husband was. And it wasn't fair.
On the other hand, I realized that Jesus held himself to a higher standard. He walked the path of unconditional love with unwavering earnestness. It wasn't an easy road, but the grace with which he walked it, and the healing it evoked in those he touched, are things I think we all yearn for. I know I did, and I saw that it would mean being willing to "grow up" spiritually.
I'm finding that this takes a lot of prayer and practice. But somewhere along the way, I've begun to get over that feeling that I need to keep score. I can't say I've mastered it yet, but I have been surprised at the strength and fulfillment I find when I try to care for my husband without putting conditions on my love. I think that the more solid love feels to me as an attribute that I can draw on and trust in my life, the more honest I feel about calling God "Father" and asking Him to listen to my prayers and concerns.
This is bringing a cohesion to my life - a feeling on a very fundamental level that I am secure in my relationship with God, safe in His care. Jesus' teachings on love, honesty, humility, and justice are more than noble platitudes. They're practical guides that make life and relationships more fruitful and rewarding.
Reaping those rewards does take work. Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy had a way of getting right to the heart of life's deeper challenges. She wrote: "There is but one way of doing good, and that is to do it! There is but one way of being good, and that is to be good!" ("Retrospection and Introspection," page 86)
Elijah was a good man. That goodness didn't exempt him from stormy experiences. But it did help him hear and follow the leadings of goodness with a constancy that few have equaled. That "gentle and quiet whisper" is speaking to us today. Listening for it and then following it gives life deeper meaning, and faith a firmer footing.
Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about
with songs of deliverance.