In dire straights
1 Kings 19:4-8 includes one of my favorite lines of angel dialogue in all of scripture:
“Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
The angel is saying this to Elijah, who is throwing himself a big pity party by not eating and hiding out in the desert.
Elijah is feeling pretty dismal about things because his life has recently been threatened by a very powerful woman: the Phoenician Queen Jezebel. (When I was in junior high, my religion teacher referred to Jezebel as the “Quicked Ween,” and that is how I always remember her.)
Jezebel has vowed to kill Elijah, and Elijah — frightened and alone — runs into the desert, hides under a tree, and asks God to take his life.
The gift of self care
What really hits me about this story is how God responds to Elijah.
When Elijah wakes, an angel has come to give him something to eat and drink. The angel says: “Get up and eat. Otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
The angel doesn’t give Elijah safety. He doesn’t say that Elijah’s life will be spared.
He also doesn’t give him a solution. He doesn’t tell Elijah what to do next.
What the angel brings to Elijah is self-care.
“Take care of yourself,” the angel is telling him, “because you have a long way to go. And if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have the strength to get through.”
The text tells us that Elijah did get up and eat, and in doing so he was given the strength to travel for “forty days and forty nights,” which is scripture’s way of telling us he journeyed for a long time.
Who knows if it was some kind of super-food the angel brought him that sustained him for so long? Still, I think perhaps the lesson here is the wisdom of the angel’s message: You cannot give up here. You have to keep going. And you have to take care of yourself to get there.
So Elijah starts with the basics: he rests, he drinks, he eats.
Otherwise the journey will be too much
Too often we can be like Elijah, looking to God for the wrong gifts — for safety or solutions when there are none.
Too often we, too, need this gentle wisdom to tend to ourselves — our hungry and tired bodies, our discouraged and frightened souls — before we embark on long and difficult journeys.
When we fail to care for ourselves adequately, we find it is just as the angel has said: the journey is too much for us.
When we are caring for ourselves, we are heeding the wisdom of God, we are opening ourselves to receive enough strength to make it through the next leg of the journey. When we give ourselves grace, we are truly stepping into the grace God has already given us.
Even if an angel isn’t the one to show up at our side with food and water and a reminder to rest, we can be that messenger to each other. That, after all, is part of what it means to be the Body. We take care of all our parts, especially the ones that are tired and hungry, because we are all on a journey together.