By Rev. Joan Kessler
1 Kings 19: 1-15
Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss https://youtu.be/abw43kcLrbg
This morning’s reflection is a little bit of everything: a bit of story, a bit of social commentary, and a whole lot of God with us. This message is for those of us who work, for those of us who are retired and those among us who are graduating this month and are going to be working. There are many things to think about in 2022 as we all find our way in the world.
The Great Resignation is a term you may have come to be familiar with. I suspect you have experienced it in some way shape or form most any time you walk out of your door these days into a retail or service space. The Great Resignation refers to a trend which is seeing employees voluntarily leaving their jobs en-masse since early 2021. We have experienced staff shortages firsthand when we visit a restaurant that can only provide takeout instead of dine-in. Appointments for all kinds of specialty services require patience and a flexible schedule because employers are without their skilled workforce. Living in a pandemic the past two years is being cited as the primary reason for this mass exodus from workplaces.
History would point out that this is not a new phenomenon. The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century saw the nature of work change dramatically with people leaving rural, agrarian work and moving to urban areas to join factories and the promise of higher wages and a better quality of life. In the 1950s, small-businesses were overshadowed by the rise of modern office jobs in big multi-national companies which began centralizing workplaces and paving the way for a highly-skilled workforce. The nature of work was again challenged in the mid-1990s with the arrival of the Internet and a digital revolution that saw workplaces connected globally with 24/7 access.
Today’s evolution of the workplace began just two years ago with the arrival of COVID-19 and the lockdowns that saw businesses shuttered and people setting up offices remotely from home. This shift has triggered a broad re-evaluation of work satisfaction and a discernment around what is most important to one’s overall quality of life. Priorities have shifted from company loyalty to spending time with family and friends and having more opportunities to raise children and care for aging parents. Workers are looking for employment that values their autonomy and offers an increased flexibility in how working hours are spent. The Great Resignation is also a response to workers experiencing a disconnection from their employers during the pandemic, causing feelings of abandonment and lack of care for their wellbeing.
In our reading this morning from 1 Kings, we find the prophet Elijah experiencing a bit of a breakdown. His job was to carry out God’s messages and speak to a people who didn’t want to listen to what he had to say. Elijah has just had a confrontation with King Ahab and his prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel and Elijah comes out of the battle successful. But now Queen Jezebel is out for Elijah’s life. He runs to the wilderness to hide and falls exhausted under a broom tree. He has hit the wall of resignation and he cries out to God that he is finished… he just can’t go one step further. He says it is enough now… he is ready to give up his life. He cannot continue with things like this. He has done what has been asked of him by God and now his life is in mortal danger.
An exhausted Elijah falls asleep, and he is told by a voice to get up and eat because otherwise the journey will be too much for him. Elijah gets up and eats. He feels the restoration of his body and spirit and is able to take up his work once again. But then there was a great wind, so strong it was breaking rocks into pieces, but God was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but God was not in the fire, and after the fire the sound of sheer silence.
It is in this quiet moment that all falls away and Elijah is able to hear what he is to do next. He hears God ask, in what I imagine a voice full of compassion and love, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” What a great question! And Elijah defends his work; the very work he wanted to walk away from just a short time before. But, maybe hearing the words come out of his own mouth that he had made a difference, that he has been devoted to his calling, was the gamechanger. Something changes for Elijah when he allows himself to be cared for.
I would really like God to have supper waiting on the table when I get home from a long day’s work, but God is not in the meal planning and the grocer-shopping. God is not in the folded laundry or the bills that must be paid, or the $100 gas fill ups. That’s not God’s work apparently. But God is in me, in my heart, and goes where I go. God is in my work and this faith blesses me continually day in and day out. And in the moments that I forget this, I do well to remind myself to listen for the sound of silence. Because it is here dear ones, when we turn off all those things that compete for our attention that we discover our worth and our wellbeing and make self-care a priority. Just turn off the noise… because we can. We can turn off our phones and our iPad and Netflix and just find the sound of sheer silence! What does it sound like to you? Sometimes it might be a reassuring sound… and other times more challenging… like “what you are doing here”?
Maybe life really is like Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go. Because, whether you are hearing this message as a graduate or a retiree, or somewhere in between, life is a forward-looking journey that will take you all kinds of places, as we heard Dr. Seuss attest to. Life is full of uncertainty and yet today is our day… we are always off to great places. Individuality is celebrated in this story. You will decide your future, your career paths, who you will spend time with. There will be moments “wherever you fly you’ll be the best of the best, wherever you go you will top all the rest. Except when you don’t. Because, sometimes you won’t…. It’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you”.
Could it be that priorities are shifting? That we are seeking a more simplistic, minimalistic way of working and living and experiencing the Spirit of God? I certainly hope so. And you, dear graduates, those we celebrate today, are our future. Remember the times you have shared here with us and take those memories with you. And please know that we want to know you and hear from you and would be over the moon to be part of your life’s journey. That is the wonderful thing about our church family – we are here for YOU. We can feed you and listen to your joys and your heartaches. We will be here when you want to explore your questions, like what am I doing here? We will pray for you while you are gone on wonderful adventures and people come into your lives so you can be your best possible selves, loved and cherished by a God and a community that thinks you are wonderfully amazing and talented and will change the world. This is no pie in the sky message. It is the stuff of life. We want you to take care of yourself and to know and always remember you have a home here at Winfield United, whatever path life puts before you.
So, if you take anything with you from this message this morning, please take time to carve out silence into your daily living – to include rest and self-care, prayer, and discernment on a regular basis. There will be moments in life when you ask, “what am I doing here”? The Spirit nourishes and sustains us in those times when life overwhelms. The Spirit is with us when our questions take us to deep inner work and reflection. We need moments of quiet and solitude to rest in God’s presence so that we can be renewed and restored and sent back out into the work and callings of our lives. You are not alone. Ask for help when you need it, know your limits and your needs and we hope and pray every good thing for your future. It is necessary to stop and rest and eat and take care of yourself. Then the time will come to get up and get going once again.
Blessings to all on the journey and know that you do not take it alone.