I hate it when people tell me that God won’t give me more than I can handle. Where in the Bible does that platitude come from? As I search the Scriptures, I find many stories of God’s servants being driven beyond the breaking point by wave after crashing wave of overwhelming circumstances. The Bible may not use the label depression, but it describes their physical and emotional condition in a way that lines up consistently with the way we experience depression today.
Elijah was a faithful servant of God, listening to His voice and following His directions. He had already endured standing up to a corrupt tyrant, being hunted for his life, having most of his colleagues murdered, and surviving a severe famine while in hiding. Now God was directing him to go back into the danger zone, to single-handedly confront the king, challenge a multitude of pagan priests, and defy the powerful spirit they all feared. Elijah obeyed God with incredible boldness of faith, and, in the strength of God, he won the day. But the cost of that glorious day was the many inglorious days that would follow.
… He himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD. 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
Once again hunted and chased. Physically exhausted. Emotionally spent. Elijah sat alone under a tree in the middle of nowhere and begged to die. “I have had enough, LORD. Take my life…” (1 Kings 19:4). Giving himself up to the blissful release of sleep, he longed to never have to return the world of grief and pain, where each today held a constant struggle for survival and each tomorrow promised only more of the same.
God understood. He knew the limits of Elijah’s frame. After all, He had designed it. And He knew beforehand that those limits would be exceeded by what He was giving Elijah to do. So how did He handle His used-up servant? How did He respond to Elijah’s depression?
Far from growing impatient with our limitations or casting us aside in our frailty, God gives us permission to be weak.
God did not chastise Elijah for his weakness. He did not pump him full of motivational slogans and shove him back into the boxing ring. Nor did He cast him aside and tell him to come back for further service once he had gotten his act together. Instead He compassionately cared for his basic needs. Food. He sent an angel to wake Elijah and feed him a warm, comforting meal. More sleep. Another meal. God Himself served His frail servant, again sending an angel to wake him up, feed him, and help him along the way. “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you” (I Kings 19:7)
The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”
God does give us more than we can handle, so much that at times we are left feeling broken, useless, and despairing of life. Far from growing impatient with our limitations or casting us aside in our frailty, God gives us permission to be weak. Our depression does not surprise Him. He gets it, and He knows how to handle it. He stoops down to lovingly tend us, compassionately creating seasons of rest and healing for our feeble bodies and fragile spirits.