She was gathering sticks at the city gate. Like most moms do when they have a minute alone, I imagine she was second-guessing her parenting from yesterday: “I wish I would have handled that one differently. I’m just not sure how to parent that child, so stubborn and strong-willed.” I can hear her criticizing herself as her thoughts trail off with the dusty breeze. Or maybe she was wishing her plight in life were different: “It’s not fair that Abigail down the road has four sons and a healthy husband who leads the village meetings. It must be nice to have it all.” I imagine her bitterly pondering as she walks briskly and throws her sticks down harshly in her basket as if it were their fault. Or maybe she was going through her market list, wondering if she had what she needed for tomorrow’s meal. Except there wasn’t going to be a tomorrow’s meal, she remembered with a jolt. There was no food, no money, and no more time. She had enough supplies for one last meal with her son before she would to take their fate into her own hands. It was time for them both to die, she had decided. Malnourished, cranky, and tired, she walked to the city gate to get her sticks for the fire. “Stay focused,” she told herself. “There is no other way out.”
God’s timing is sometimes humorous to me. And not in a “funny ha-ha” humorous way. Sometimes God’s humor can be a “hands-thrown-open-with-a-deep-sigh-of-sarcasm-are-you- kidding-me” kind of humorous. This is the kind of humorous I experience when I am holding my one-year-old daughter to keep her from crying, while trying to get dinner ready before she needs to go to bed, while my three-year-old son is screaming from the toilet to come wipe him, while my five-year-old son asks me firmly and expectantly to get him a drink of water right now because he is thirsty. In these moments, we laugh to keep from crying. We find humor in the cruel irony of the request all the while thinking (and for me, wanting to scream), “Are you kidding me!?” I imagine that this is what the widow gathering sticks experiences as Elijah’s question interrupts her suicidal musings.
He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” (1 Kgs. 17:10-11)
I want to slap Elijah. I know he is just following God’s direction but honestly, does he not see her? Does he not see her small, malnourished frame? Does he not notice her puffy eyes and tear-stained cheeks because she has been crying all night every night desperately racking her brain for a solution to her problems, a way to save her dying son? Does he not know that she is a widow with no money and no provider, with no hope and no future, one who has already written her suicide note? What is wrong with him?!
She answers him, “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”
She was desperate and in her hour of despair more was asked of her. We have all been there. When you think the news of your infertility treatments couldn’t get any worse. And it did. When you are sure it will be different this time when you finally have that conversation with that family member. And it’s not. When you finally muster up the courage to try again and take the test. And you fail. Sometimes the hits just keep coming.
So what then?
The widow’s response? She says “no.” She rejects God and God’s prophet. She is not a follower, but she knows Elijah’s God (see verse 12). And she walks away. But not before Elijah gave her instructions.
Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”
The widow’s “no” response is the human response. The Scriptures do not portray her as bad or unholy. She is instead blessed by God, and then God goes on to resurrect her son from the dead a few short verses later.
Despite the widow’s response, God still blesses her.
For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah. (17:6)
There are a host of issues that can cause us to turn away from God, as the widow did. From bereaved mothers grieving children ripped from their fingers, to hopes and dreams for a job shattered on the rock of despair, many of us know what it is like to shake our fists at God and ask, “Are you kidding me?!”
Here is something I want us to consider with the widow at Zarephath. What if God is not angry at us, but rather is compassionate toward us? What if God, looking at our backs, says, “Okay, but I am not going to let you run dry.” What if God comes to the dead, lifeless, hopeless object of our desire we bring God and breathes the very breath of life into it?
In the dark and desperate times of life, consider walking with the widow in the following steps:
- Turn to a friend. The widow took Elijah in and took care of him. I have to imagine that he took care of her.
- Be honest with God. The widow demonstrates great honesty. I even think she might have been a little sassy. God can handle your feelings. So feel your feelings with God.
- Be a spiritual seeker. The widow was not familiar with Elijah’s God, but she eventually obeyed God’s instructions and listened to Elijah. There may be a practice like silence and meditation, or an experience like a retreat or a support group or a spiritual direction session, that God is inviting you into, but you are hesitant to follow. But seekers follow. So be brave and follow.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the First Colony Church of Christ.
After more than a decade spent ministering to students and families in domestic and international contexts, Kelly Edmiston has developed a passion to equip the church for works of ministry. Kelly, originally from Abilene, Texas, is currently the student and family minister at the First Colony Church of Christ in Sugar Land, Texas. Kelly is a frequent retreat speaker, Bible teacher, and writer. Her writing has been featured on Scot McKnight’s “Jesus Creed” and Sean Palmer’s “The Palmer Perspective.” She will soon complete a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University. Her areas of interest are liberation theology, practical theology, and spiritual formation. Kelly and her husband Ben enjoy “suburban life” with their three children.