In the midst of my emotional distress, the story of Elijah and the juniper tree taught me it’s OK to rest.
Until I experienced it myself, I struggled to understand the paralyzing darkness felt by some of my friends who dealt with depression and anxiety. I wondered how that state of mind prohibited them from feeling they could even move.
When I found myself experiencing my own unexpected depression and severe anxiety, I suddenly understood how deep those paralyzing feelings can be, and how completely they can immobilize a person. But in those dark moments, God taught me a beautiful lesson. I came to see how God can turn that paralyzing fear into a state of enabled and ennobled rest.
It was Elijah’s experience in 1 Kings that brought this realization to light for me: In every trial we face and in every mental wrestle we find ourselves in, He provides and encourages rest. Rest isn’t weak and ineffective. Rest is nourishing and necessary.
In the middle of my deepest depressed state, I felt completely restless. My heart knew I could do more and be more and push myself more. I had done more my whole life! So to now feel paralyzed felt as though I was disappointing my family, my friends, myself, and my God. It racked me with torment and killed every last flame of self-worth I had ever felt. What was the point of me even being here? Who was I? I was chained down by my mind, and my heart couldn’t do anything to free me from it.
Day after day, week after week, I would grow more frustrated with my inability to be what I felt I should be—and to live up to what others knew I was capable of living up to. It was mental and spiritual suicide every single day. So many times those feelings felt completely suffocating. I just wanted to run. I wanted to be in a place where no one knew me, no one expected anything from me. It was a constant battle.
I look back on those times and am completely humbled to see the great gifts He gave me—including the most precious gift of a true friend. My friend never claimed to have any answers and didn’t try to “fix” me. What she did do was stay close to Him for the both of us. She asked Him where to light my path so I could find rest and peace from an ever-raging mind. That is all I needed. I needed to see that I wasn’t alone.
I was told so many times, “Ashley, it’s OK to sit and rest.” “It’s OK to just be as you are.” “It’s OK to do this just for you.” I couldn’t even grasp that concept. I felt that if I did concede and just sit and rest, that would show that I was weak. Wouldn’t that just show my surrender to this illness? No. I was not going to stop and rest. I was going to keep running.
Little did I realize I was running further and further down a dark tunnel, until one day I slowed down just enough to see that little flicker of light He always would send. That flicker was a message of hope—of permission—to finally just rest.
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My friend opened her scriptures to 1 Kings chapter 1 and briefly told me how the prophet Elijah had been working so hard to bring the people back into righteousness. Elijah was giving everything He had to persuade the people to repent and turn their lives back to God, yet they would not listen. This grew ever heartbreaking and worrisome. He thought he had failed God. These feelings were too much to bear, so Elijah went on a walk:
“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.
“And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat.
“And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again.
“And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.
“And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God” (1 Kings 19:4–8).
As Elijah rested under the juniper tree, he prayed and asked God to just let him die—to take away his life that he felt he had wasted. Elijah laid in that place, wrestling in his mind of all he lacked, when an angel came and touched him. I think it is so important to point out that the angel didn’t just come; the angel let Elijah feel that he was with him through that touch. I imagine that in the state of despair Elijah was in, perhaps he wouldn’t have been able to hear the angel there, yet he could recognize the touch of His angel’s hands.
The angel invited Elijah to sit up and eat and drink—to fill himself with what had been miraculously provided. The angel then comforted Elijah as he laid back down again.
After another rest, the angel came back a second time with the same invitation and comfort. This time the angel acknowledged to Elijah that the journey God had sent Elijah on was so great and so hard.
I imagine that at this point Elijah felt comfort and a peace of mind. The emptiness of failure began to be filled with God’s strength. And that strength sustained Elijah for the next 40 days and 40 nights as he climbed to Mount Horeb. The angel didn’t come to tell Elijah that he was being slothful or to tell him what he should be doing. The angel simply told Elijah that it was OK to rest and reminded him of the nourishment sitting right in front of him.
Learning of Elijah’s experience changed my experience. I learned that seeking rest isn’t being weak; finding rest is the most strengthening act we can embrace. I felt the same way as Elijah. I felt I had failed because my depression and lack of ambition kept me from doing and being all I knew I could. I wanted my life to be taken. I wanted it all to end.
When my friend shared with me this simple scripture experience, I started to have my eyes opened to God’s mercy and grace. I saw His power to find me where I was and to stay with me under my own shaded juniper tree. When we choose to slow down and stop under the shade, then we can be fed and taught. We can gather all the strength we need to climb the next mountain. With Him, we will know when to stand and go again. For me, the key was to make sure that seeking rest included connecting with God and His word, and on my knees.
If you love someone who lives in this tunnel of depression, rather than pushing them to stand and walk in the heat, be their angel. Sit in the shade with them. Offer them His nourishment. Be His hands by reaching for theirs.
And when you find yourself running in the dark, slow down for His light. If you’re feeling alone, hold the hand that is outstretched. If you feel broken, be still and let His grace piece you back together. His sustaining rest awaits you under the shade of the juniper tree.