There is a real awareness that we are all under more pressure than we use to be. There is a sense that work is more demanding and there is little or no job security. The loss of a job can pose huge difficulties in the face of ongoing financial commitments like a mortgage, children or students needing financial support. There is a new pressure to be available to respond quickly or instantly through our mobile devices. So what might have been a time of peace away from pressure, could now add to our worries. I am most aware that our children are more exposed to that pressure to be constantly in contact. There is now a condition called the fear of missing out or FOMO. There is also more pressure on them to excel at their schoolwork and exams. I was happy to pass and any higher grades were a bonus. Now it is all about whether you get the highest grades in order to have any chance of succeeding. It is no wonder that people are worried or struggling with their mental health and wellbeing. Happily, there is much more awareness and help available but there is still a long way to go to really meeting the need.
I am reminded of a bible story of the prophet Elijah (1 Kings Chapter 19) set nearly three thousand years ago. Elijah has been on the run from the king, he was kept alive by God during a famine and drought. He has had probably his best day defeating the prophets of Baal, praying and getting rain to break the drought. He then gets a death threat from Queen Jezebel. Instead of trusting in God’s protection, he runs away to the wilderness and asks God to take his life away. We would now say he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or a nervous or mental breakdown. Despite his great success, he is still vulnerable and human. This is true for all of us whether we are very successful or having a series of unexpected stressful events we can all encounter a mental health issue. The statistics suggest one in four people will experience a mental health problem. It is not a rare condition but one that often people rarely speak about.
Back to the Elijah story, we learn some helpful ideas. The first and most important idea is that God does not condemn Elijah for his failings. Instead, he offers support in the form of an angel that provides hot bread and (I assume cold) water. He meets Elijah’s physical needs. He allows Elijah to have two big periods of sleep to refresh and restore him. He provides strength and support. Lastly, Elijah waits on God who comes to him in the ‘sound of sheer silence’. He gives Elijah a new purpose and task. It is worth remembering the importance of rest, sleep and good fresh food that really nourishes us. When we are lost, we often have to have a purpose in order to find our way back to God and the people we love. These principles still work well today as they did many years ago.
Rev. Martin Wood. The Rectory, Church Lane, Cheriton Bishop EX6 6HY 01647 24119 (Tuesday to Sunday) firstname.lastname@example.org