The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”1 Kings 19:11-13 NIV
Post-Achievement Depression is a common experience for people who have finally reached their goals. I’ve achieved a promotion. I’ve finished all of my work. I’ve gotten married. I’ve won an award. I’ve done the thing I’ve strived for all my life.
Now I’ll be happy.
Instead, as soon as the buzz of success and endorphins settles, everything is as it was before, only now, you’ve reached the pinnacle. Now what? The thrill and challenge is complete, and yet the same old enemies and temptations are waiting on the other side of the mountain.
This is what I imagine Elijah experienced. Just a month prior to this moment on the mountain, Elijah called down the power of God and destroyed the prophets of Baal in a show of extreme zeal for the Lord. As soon as that victory for God was over, Jezebel threatened his life. She was a threat before he put on his show for God, and she continued to be a threat after.
Does no one see what I’ve done? What I’ve been through? What I’ve accomplished? Shouldn’t things be different now?
Positive psychology expert Tal Ben-Shahar coined this condition “the arrival fallacy” in his book Happier. The arrival fallacy explains the let down we feel when the satisfaction we anticipate upon achieving a goal isn’t all that it was cracked up to be.
What we wanted was perpetual happiness. What we got was happiness for an instant.
I return to the story of Elijah on the mountain again and again, but especially in moments of disappointment, discouragement, and doubt. In the whirlwinds of life and in the whirlwinds I’ve made for myself, I find myself screaming into the wind, “I’ve been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty, and yet what do I have to show for it?!”
Let me show you where I Am, God tells Elijah. You think I am in this whirlwind. I Am not in the wind. You think I’m in this earthquake. I Am not in the earthquake. You think I’m in this fire. I Am not in the fire.
After the fire is the sound of a gentle whisper. Shhh, God says. One translation says that what followed the fire was “the sound of sheer silence.” Another says “a still small voice.” Another describes the sound after the fire as “nothing but the sound of a calm breeze.”
The same God that whispers gently to Elijah commanded the water to calm down later. Jesus is not in the storm. Jesus is the peace among the waves.
When I’ve gotten worked up into a frenzied cycle of production, achievement, and let down, I find myself wondering where God is in this whirlwind. And his answer is, I Am in the silence. I Am in the stillness. I Am in the calm. Step out of the whirlwind you’ve made. Are you here for your own victories, your own achievements, your own self-gratification? Or are you here for Me? For others? For Love?
Are you here to win, or are you here to love?
What are you doing here?
Points of Reflection
- Are the battles you’re fighting right now feeding the fires, earthquakes, and wind of the world? If God asked you, “What are you doing here,” how would you reply?
- Where do you go to hear the still small voice, the sound of sheer silence?
For the Kids
- Do you think it’s okay to complain to God?
- What helps you when you feel overwhelmed or discouraged?
Take some time to retreat into a quiet space away from distractions, ambitions, and arguments to be somewhere that the quiet breeze of the Lord can speak to your spirit and remind you why you are here. Are you here to win a medal? Are you here to win an argument? Are you here to acquire wealth? Or are you here to love and serve your fellow man, to love and serve your Lord and Savior? Contemplate and reflect upon the mission God has placed on your life and how that aligns with your daily battles.
The first book I thought of related to this subject I’ve recommended before, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen, which reorients leadership around the person of Jesus, who was always and continues to be peace, stillness, and that quiet breeze, separate from and in the midst of all of the world’s raging storms. But since I’ve recommended that book before, I also recently finished The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris, which collects thoughts and reflections of Kathleen Norris in the midst of her time visiting monasteries, gleaning wisdom and truth about living a spiritual life from those whose entire vocation is caught up in being shaped into Christ’s likeness. It’s a wonderful, meditative book with beautiful prose and refreshing perspectives on the Christian walk that I found to be inspiring and quiet, in the same way the voice on the mountain worked to calm Elijah’s raging heart.
I was deeply moved and inspired by a group of people at Christ’s Community Church in Fishers, Indiana, who shared reflections on Lent through music “that connects us with the universal human longing for the divine.” Their series, “Songs of Lent,” is archived on Substack and worth exploring, especially if you love music.
This song, “Citizens” by Jon Guerra, came to mind as I was thinking about these verses in 1 Kings today, because of a line near the end, which says, “Power has several prizes, handcuffs can come in all sizes, love has a million disguises, but winning is simply not one.” I think about these lines a lot. They make me wonder whether I am set on winning, or on loving. I think it’s a question I have to ask myself daily. What does victory in Christ actually look like? Is it loud, or is it quiet? Listen closely to this song if you have a few minutes. Perhaps it will move you the same way it has moved me.