In Reading 1 in yesterday’s Mass, Elijah, being persecuted by Jezebel, prayed to ask God to take his life away.
…and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough. Now, O Yahweh, take away my life…” (1 Kings 19:4)
The request reminded me of the same request Don Piper made to God, recorded in his book “90 Minutes in Heaven”, in which he told his own story about how he died after a traffic accident, and miraculously returned to life after ninety minutes, during which time he had the experience of going to heaven. The horrendous pain and disfigurement he suffered, took away his will and desire to live, and he prayed for God to let him die - not once but many times.
‘…I didn’t want to live. Not only did I face the ordeal of never-lessening pain but I had been to heaven. I wanted to return to that glorious place of perfection. “Take me back, God,” I prayed, “please take me back.”’ (p.59)
‘…many nights I prayed, God, take me back to heaven. I don’t know why you brought me back to earth. Please don’t leave me here.’ (p.72)
‘I wanted to be free from my miserable existence and die.’ (p.77)
‘"God, God, why is it like this? Why am I going through this constant pain that never seems to get any better?" Again I prayed for God to take me. I didn't want to live any longer. I wanted to go back home, and now for me, home meant heaven.’ (p.106)
According to Don Piper, every time God’s answer to his prayer was a flat ‘no’.
I am sure we all have similar experiences, maybe not quite as bad as for us to wish for ending our lives, but experiences bad enough for us to pray for God to put an end to it, and God did not answer our prayer. It is hard for us to see, especially when we are in the midst of suffering, that the very experience is a lesson God would like us to learn, that there is blessing in it, and that even in the worst of times God is there to take care of us.
1 Kings 19 goes on to tell how an angel helped Elijah after he made the prayer:
He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat!” He looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on the coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and laid down again. The angel of Yahweh came again the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.” He arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the Mount of God. (1 Kings 19: 5-8)
Notice how the angel’s help not only kept coming but also became more intimate. The second time he came, he touched Elijah, and he reminded him that he had to eat because the journey was too great for him.
So in face of hardship, do not pray for God to take us away from the suffering. Pray for God to give us the strength to overcome the hardship, after which we will have a stronger relationship with God. The knowledge that Elijah, with the help of the angel, had the strength to go forty days and forty nights to the Mount of God is very empowering indeed.