Under a Juniper Tree: Crying Uncle

Denver Botanic Gardens (2011)

A rancid stew of frustration, hurt, fear, doubt, and anger has left me with the emotional equivalent of food poisoning. A long summer has exacted a heavy toll.

Last week I found myself in a gated compound out in the country in northern New Mexico. The property owner left Tuesday without a word. The only person around was a young man who hung around the property, popping up at odd times and in odd places. I felt exceptionally uncomfortable staying there from the first night. In fact, I slept in my clothes, on the sofa, with the lights on. Leaving wasn’t an option as there weren’t any alternatives.

Following a whim Wednesday night, I did an online search about the property owner during which I discovered that the young man making odd appearances was her son. His mug shot and an arrest warrant from a couple of years ago were online. And so were court papers and news reports about his collection of terrorist literature and a half-dozen homemade bombs that were capable of death or serious injury. That explained the large notice warning police, firefighters, along with local, state and federal authorities that they were trespassing and subject to a hefty $5,000 fine by stepping onto the property.

I felt no sense of protection. A troubled young man who thought little of killing others had keys to where I was staying, and his mother had been gone for at least 36 hours. If I had to call the police, would they respond? The notice suggested that they might not.

Following Wednesday night’s discovery, Thursday morning I was gone.

The experience was a proverbial last straw. Prayer became bitter before it stopped altogether. I’ve said all I can say. There are no more words.

Seems that this condition is nothing new. 1 Kings 19 tells the story of Elijah, Ahab and Jezebel. After Elijah completed his mission, Jezebel promised revenge. The result? “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.” Elijah’s prayer sounds familiar: “I have had enough, Lord.” And with that he lay down under a juniper tree and slept.

Jill Briscoe writes in an article for the Billy Graham organization, “The first thing to do when you arrive under the [juniper] tree is quit everything. Give yourself permission to collapse. Elijah simply said, ‘God, I’ve had it!’ ” Briscoe adds:

“[Juniper] tree experiences introduce us to a new way of praying. It’s not verbal praying but rather total abandonment of ourselves in despair at God’s feet. It is a silent scream for help. Sometimes we cannot even shout at God. We are spent.

“When you run out of prayers, God still hears you. Even though no words are formed, God looks at you and reads the language of your longing. At that moment, you are the prayer. So be content just to be a desperate prayer under your particular [juniper] tree and wait and see what happens.”

If Elijah can cry uncle, then so can I.

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