When I was laid off in 2009 it was devastating. My ego was severely bruised. I went from making a six-figure income at a prestigious law firm to zero in the blink of an eye. I worried about how my wife and I were going to raise two children and pay our mortgage.

The next day my wife was off to work and even my children had things to do. They went to school to learn and play, but I had nowhere to go. I finished my breakfast and sat at the kitchen table in my gym shorts and t-shirt. The only noise I could hear in our empty house was the dull hum of the refrigerator. Everything was quiet.

Being plunged into that silence was unnerving at first. I had become accustomed to the noise of our busy household, the noise of my office and the noise in my mind telling me all of things I had to do each day. But as I look back, I see that some of the most powerful experiences I have had in my faith were in the moments of silence.

In 1 Kings 18 Elijah engages Jezebel’s priests of Baal in a kind of contest on Mount Carmel to prove who’s god is the most powerful. In a dramatic display, the prophet calls down fire from heaven to consume the sacrificial offerings proving that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel is the one, true and all-powerful God. As if embarrassing Jezebel’s priests was not enough, Elijah then had them rounded up and killed. When Jezebel learned what happened, she sent a message to Elijah threatening to kill him. Fearing for his life, the prophet fled.

Elijah went to Beersheba on the outskirts of the southern kingdom of Judah first, leaving his servant there. Then, he went alone into the wilderness and, as he sat beneath a broom tree, asked the Lord to take his life. Elijah fell asleep and was awoken by an angel who told him to eat the food and drink the water that God had provided while he slept. Elijah consumed the food and water and then made a forty day and forty-night journey to Mount Horeb (Mount Sinai), God’s mountain. When he arrived on God’s mountain, Elijah went into a cave and slept.

“Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.

Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.”

1 Kings 19:9–16, NRSV.

There are some details we should review at this point.

After focusing so intensely on his prophetic work, Elijah faces a threat. He flees the threat out of fear and leaves his servant to be alone. We may be jolted out of our normal routines with a trial that we must face relying on God’s help alone.

Then Elijah goes into the wilderness. The wilderness is a place of testing. Moses was tested in the wilderness and so was Jesus. Though Elijah feels like dying by himself in the wilderness, God miraculously provides him with sustenance without any effort from Elijah. The sustenance God provides is enough to fuel Elijah for his journey to God’s place. When we are in the wilderness, we may feel like dying, but God will provide for us and sustain us for the next leg of the journey to lead us to him.

When he arrives at God’s place, Elijah goes into a cave, a dark place, and is told that God is about to “pass by.” When God speaks to Elijah, he does not do so in a loud and aggressive manner, but in silence. The NABRE translation calls it “a light silent sound.” God poses the question to Elijah twice “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah answers God’s question twice. When we arrive at God’s place, things may seem even darker than they were in the wilderness. God will ask us questions, possibly the same question over and over again. When we answer his questions, he will tell us what to do next.

All of this happens just before Elijah is sent by God on an important mission to anoint Hazael and Elisha. If you find yourself in the wilderness, God may be preparing you for an amazing mission. Are you ready? He will make you ready.

Life has been amazing since I left that prestigious law firm in 2009. I returned to the Church after twenty years, my wife and I had another child and I entered the Church’s permanent diaconate program in 2016. My relationship with God continues to grow and I am often amazed to see how he works in our lives.

When we are faced with difficult situations we usually want to do things. Doing things makes us feel like we are in control, but instead of doing things we should take time to listen to God’s voice in the silence. The silence of mental prayer and Eucharistic adoration are great ways to do this. The “silence” does not have to be total and complete audible silence though. We can have silence in our mind and in our soul even when we go out for a run, go to the gym or put on headphones to listen to good music. It is during those times when our mind and soul are at peace that we are most docile to the Holy Spirit and able to hear his voice in the silence.

05 / 22 / 2018
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