He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 1 Kings 19: 4,5

The story of Elijah and the angels in the desert has recently become something of a meme in the Christian realm. People take note of his circumstances of depression and hopelessness and glibly say, “Never underestimate the power of a good nap and hearty meal.” This lovely phrase is apparently the answer to all suffering and pain.

To say that the story of Elijah is about a good nap and a meal minimizes the core of what God, our Father, is all about: relationship, care, and restoration through meeting our deepest needs. God ministered to Elijah by offering him care. The meal was made for him so he could rest and prepare for what lay ahead—the incredibly hard path that God had called him into. He was surrounded by ministering beings in his time of distress, not ordered to get up and care for himself.

We so often want quick fixes. When someone receives a cancer diagnosis, we run to provide meals and support right away. As the cancer treatment continues, the support begins to wane until two years into it, only a few stragglers remain. We as humans are not very good at hanging in there for the long haul, and many people eventually suffer in isolation as those around them grow weary of having to carry someone who has been suffering for what seems like too long.

My family has been in a desert place for longer than I care to admit. Adopting and raising a child with a diagnosis of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder has been a journey that has nearly broken us as a family and caused me and my husband at times to ask for relief in the form of death. There have been seasons when I have sat under the bush in the desert, begging God to let me go, feeling completely inadequate for what He has asked me to do and lacking any strength to continue. Sleep and food have become a form of escapism that never satisfies. Alcohol leaves nothing but a headache and emptiness in its wake. Relief is there for a moment, but not true restoration. My husband, daughter, and I are all in a sinking ship, trying to bail the water out, which leaves no ability to truly care for each other. No one has the freedom to stop bailing water, or we might sink.

Our personal suffering has already been going on for 12 years. Add in a severe car accident, breast cancer scare, and the everyday things that happen to all of us, and our family is exhausted. We are the epitome of the chronic walking wounded. Our son, in one of his manic episodes, recently dead-bolted our family out of the house while we walked the dog late at night. This led to my husband climbing a ladder to break into a two-story window that was thankfully unlocked at 10:30 p.m. All I could do was pray he wouldn’t fall. I kept begging God not to take my husband because I know I can’t do this without him. That incident led to another desert season for us—a  longing for death because there is no way we can keep doing this day after day. I have sobbed alone in my house for hours, pounding the floor with my fists, wondering if God feels compassion for what He is allowing us to go through alone. A meal and a nap are not going to fix this. Based on our son’s diagnosis, this could be the story of our life for another 30 years.

I wish our story was uncommon, but I frequently run into people who are in the same boat, barely making it emotionally, on the long haul of suffering with no one around to care for them. Their friends are weary of their suffering and have disappeared. Jesus spent his life with those who were suffering. He got in the dirt with them and wasn’t afraid of staying there.

As Jesus followers, we should be looking for those in the desert and finding ways to serve them.

Elijah made it out of the desert because he was provided and cared for. The meal was prepared for him, allowing him to rest. This is an example for all of us of how to care for the hurting.

Thankfully, I made a friend in the last year. She and her family are hurting as deeply as ours. They live in a desert place that causes immense suffering and pain. She and I cannot offer meals to each other, but we have chosen to offer the gift of our presence and the kindness of grace when we fail each other in words or action. We often sit together and cry or get angry. There is room for strong emotions, room to question God and His love for us. Right now, she is a human lifeline to me—someone who has not bailed on me or slapped a silly meme on my problems. For now, that is enough.

Christy Barber lives in Monument, Colorado with her adventuresome husband and two children. She pursues her heart by writing music, poems and creating whenever time allows. She wants to inspire hope through her own stories of struggle and journey with Jesus.