She then said to Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!" - 1 Kings 17:1-24
Mae West once said, "I've been rich and I've been poor, and rich is definitely better."
Elijah has prophesied drought. The king wants to "shoot the messenger." Elijah is on the run. God directs him to the home of a poor widow who is about to prepare one final meal for her son and herself before dying. But because God has already spoken to her, when Elijah asks the unthinkable, that she give her last meal to him, she complies. God blesses her household with meal and oil that never run out.
But then the widow's son, her sole hope of long-term survival, dies suddenly—even with a prophet living in her house. As the Saturday Night Live character Rosanne Rosannadanna used to say, "If it's not one thing, it's another"—especially if you're living in poverty. Frustrated, the widow blames her past sins, Elijah, and his God. Elijah, weary of living from hand to mouth and of being on the run, also takes this personally and complains to God. Amid such poverty, the cause of death could be most anything. But God hears Elijah's prayer, restoring the boy's life.
Recently, sitting with clergy friends discussing someone's nervous prayer for a check to clear, some thought such prayers improper. Those against them may not know about or may have simply forgotten standing desperately in a grocery line, hoping a credit card will work or that money will be coming in, beating some food, phone, or utility expense.
But God has not forgotten.
God stands in the line with you—whether you are nervous or assured. And when things get so bad you can't seem to pray, don't give up, turn to your spiritual community. Find someone who, in the words of my Mom, "can get a prayer through." And as time goes by, never forget your time of trial and deliverance; strive to be Elijah for someone else—whether by the prayer of your lips, or pocket.
Gracious God, make us mindful, whether we stand in life's lines wondering or not, that where we stand is not solely our own doing. Give us compassion without judgment; gratitude without guilt; benevolence without pity, and a restless urgency that continually calls upon your resurrecting power with the same intensity we have for our own children and selves. Amen.
Ron Buford is the former coordinator of the UCC's God is still speaking campaign and appears in the DVD-based progressive theology series, Living the Questions 2.0.