There is an interesting story in 1 Kings 19 about sorrow and comfort. After Elijah had killed 850 Baal priests on Mount Carmel, Ahab told his wife Jezebel. Jezebel was furious and sent a message that she would kill Elijah the very next day. Elijah was petrified. Given that he had just witnessed two massive manifestations of the power of God (fire from heaven lighting the sacrifice and rain ending the drought), you'd think that he would not be afraid of Jezebel. However, he was terrified. For some reason, Elijah lacked faith that with God's help he could overcome Jezebel and he ran for his life for an entire day in order to escape her.
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers. (1 Kings 19:4)Elijah compared himself to the fathers and felt he wasn't good enough. He saw death as the only option.
The Focus of Our Sorrow
Why was Elijah filled with so much despair? Was it perhaps because he expected a different outcome after the events on Mount Carmel? Perhaps he had hoped that they would lead to a real change in the spiritual climate of Israel. Yet it didn't. Whatever the reason, Elijah felt depressed and despondent.
During the next 40 days, an angel came and gave him bread and water to sustain him. After regaining his strength, Elijah went and hid in a cave. The Lord then asked him why he was in the cave; Elijah responded that people wanted to kill him and he was alone as all the other prophets had been killed. Essentially Elijah was saying, "Lord, I am all alone and I don't even know if you have forsaken me." The Lord told him to go up into the mountain and there demonstrated some incredible things with his power: a massive wind that broke up the mountain, an earthquake, and a fire.
12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.Despite God demonstrating his power through the elements which could have been a source of comfort to Elijah, reminding him that God is stronger than Jezebel, and despite God speaking to him, Elijah would not be comforted. He still felt so incredibly alone since he had given into the temptation of self-pity.
13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?
14 And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. (1 Kings 19)
When we feel self-pity, it is usually due to pride. It arises out of expecting a different outcome and not accepting the truth of a situation or the truth about ourselves. The only way to overcome this and to embrace the comfort God wants to give us is to repent.
It is interesting to contrast Elijah's sadness with that of Enoch's. Enoch was shown the flood and "as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted." (Moses 7:44) But, then the Lord said to Enoch, "Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look." After Enoch saw Jesus's life and death, "his soul rejoiced." (Moses 7:47) In this instance, Enoch's sorrow was not for his own situation in life, but he felt sorrow for the wickedness of others. Due to the focus of Enoch's sadness, he did not lose hope, while Elijah, on the other hand, felt totally hopeless. This could be why Enoch was comforted due to the things God showed him, while Elijah struggled to feel comforted.
Since we know Elijah was a man so close to the Lord, had access to a great deal of God's power, and was eventually translated, it is tempting to assume that Elijah didn't do anything wrong. However, the Bible contains all: the good and the bad. Elijah wasn't perfect and he made mistakes. His response to Jezebel was a mistake and something we can learn from (instead of judge him).
I have felt self-pity many times and I have come to understand that self-pity always distances me from God. Each time I repent of my pride, the hurt leaves and my heart opens to comfort God can give me. I still have a long way to go in learning to love like Jesus, but the more I focus on loving others, the less I feel pitiful over the way others may treat me. In the end, the more love I have for others, the more connected I am to the Lord and negative experiences hurt less.
Turning to God Instead of the World for Comfort
One of the most difficult things we can experience is the feeling of being abandoned by God, that he has in some way forsaken me. There have been times where I can see that I am to blame for this feeling because I deviated from God's will in some way. Other times I have given in to the temptation to lose faith or hope in the promises God has given me (perhaps a bit like Elijah?). Even still, as I try earnestly to obey God in doing his will completely, there are times where I still feel distant from him. In these moments God allows me to feel alone in order to see if I will continue being obedient to him, even when I am not feeling filled with the Spirit. Furthermore, these moments provide a litmus test to demonstrate how much I have overcome of my weaknesses and how much further I still have to go.
Life is hard sometimes. Being a homeschooling, homesteading mother of five young children (the oldest two are seven) is often demanding. Throw in hormones and being a wife and a struggle to sleep at times, it's the perfect recipe for experiencing some of life's challenges. It is only natural that sometimes we may feel a little bored, tired, depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, frustrated, or alone. Furthermore, sometimes there are specific trials God gives us to help us overcome our weaknesses and strengthen our faith in him. Recently when I was struggling with a particular trial, I cried out to God, "I just can't do it anymore. I'm struggling. I doubt my own ability to overcome this." I felt like giving up on myself. That night I had a dream in which I was shown that God has not given up on me even though I was struggling to find hope in my own abilities to endure. This was a great source of comfort from that time on and strengthened my faith in what the Lord had asked of me. As we turn to God to comfort us, he will comfort us. I have learned that as I try to do the Lord's will and turn to him when I am struggling, God is always there to comfort me, even when I don't see it. I really am not alone. He has not abandoned me. I have been shown that there are unseen angels.
During those times when we feel alone, it is easy to turn to the world for comfort. Do you ever turn to social media, such as Instagram or Facebook, when you feel alone or bored? Or when you feel anxious or depressed, do you turn to a substance, such as food or chocolate? Or when you feel overwhelmed with life, do you turn to talking it through with others? None of these things are inherently bad, but when we use them as a replacement for turning to the Lord, they block us from receiving the comfort God wants to give us. In essence, they become like a god to us as we look to them as sources of comfort and a way to ease our burdens.
Throughout the scriptures the Lord says that He will comfort us when we need comforting. After all, the Holy Ghost is called the Comforter (John 14:26) and Jesus is called another Comforter (John 14:16-18). Isaiah wrote the words of the Lord, saying, "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you." (Isaiah 66:13) Also, when Jesus began His ministry, He used the words of Isaiah to describe His mission:
1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;Recently I felt quite hurt by the actions of another. As soon as I had the opportunity to be alone, I went to pray. I explained to God how this situation felt like a knife in my heart and it made me feel sad. Words then came into my mind telling me that Jesus knew how I felt and I was reminded of his suffering and how it hurt a lot more, yet he allowed the mistreatment and instantly forgave. I felt so comforted from the words given to me in that instant. In that experience, I was given instruction to forgive and let it go but was also reminded that Christ knows how I feel since he has been through that and so much more. I was given both comfort and encouragement to be more like Jesus.
2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified. (Isaiah 61)
There have been other times where I have cried out to God for comfort and I have received nothing. I know that even when it seems like God isn't comforting us, we can trust it is for our own good and growth. Everything he does shows the greatest amount of love he has for us. I also have come to learn that even if I don't feel comforted immediately, I need to persist in seeking comfort from God. It is hard, but when we give up, we show our lack of faith and lack of desire. It is interesting to examine the situations in the New Testament where people asked Jesus for help multiple times before he helped them. Ignoring their first request strengthened their faith and determination (e.g. Mark 7:27 & Matthew 20:30-31). Asking can't happen just once. If we truly desire comfort from God, we need to be willing to persist in our requests until God gives us that comfort.
Life will often not go the way we expect. When we focus our expectations on what we think is best and what we want, it opens the door to Satan leading us to feel discouraged, hopeless, depressed, and fearful. He wants us to feel like a failure. Our self-pity makes it difficult to feel God's comfort and often leads us to want to hide in a cave (as Elijah did). As we repent and focus on loving others, we are able to experience comfort from God. Seeking this comfort entails not turning to the world during those difficult moments, but persisting in our requests for comfort from God alone. This comfort transcends the comfort that the world and others can offer us, which is always fleeting. His comfort always builds our faith and our love for God and others. It is the only comfort we should desire.