Elijah & the SAT, excerpt 3 (one last big sample)

Elijah the Tishbite never had any kids. He was a child of God, a prophet from the town of Tishbe in the region of Gilead in the early part of the 8th century, BCE. He’s referred to in bible study lingo as a “minor prophet” because he takes up so little space in the narrative; his resume is buried in a stack of two sequential books in the Old Testament, neither of which is even named after him. And yet, his days were a relentless stream of singular accomplishments, rare acts of bravado and wit, miraculous moments of healing and provision, stunning seasons of prayer and silence, and divine revelations that poured out from his life in the form of living proof so profound no willing heart could remain untouched by his presence. His story is shared by Jews and Christians and Muslims alike, who recount how, throughout biblical history, every generation that followed would approach potential messiahs to ask breathlessly, “Are you Elijah?” Prophets came and went, saints and kings, rabbis and scholars, judges and warriors, wise and faithful men and women who fleshed out the story of God, but it would be none other than Elijah who would reappear on the mountain top at the Transfiguration, taking his rightful place beside the two greatest figures in the Judeo-Christian tradition: Moses and Jesus Christ.

Why him? Elijah was not a worldly man. He was not charming or gracious or multi-talented. We have no indication that he was especially attractive or athletic or intelligent. He did not play well with others or mix with the right crowd—in fact, if he’d needed a letter of recommendation to get a meeting with a king, he wouldn’t have known a single person to ask. Yet, so great was his impact on the world that today, 3000 years later, the Jewish faithful still hold an empty seat for him at the table in the hopes that he will return.

What did his parents do to raise a son like that? What special secrets did they know about nurturing kids who’d go on to be living legends? The evidence is scant. On the day he was born his mother and father named him Elijah—“my God is the LORD.” At first glance, this may seem perfectly ordinary—a nice Jewish name for a nice Jewish boy—but it was a fist-pumping act of pure and defiant faith. Israel was no longer a nation devoted solely to the God who had given them life. Seduced by Jezebel and her blinged-out pantheon, the children of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob had started to forget about the God who had brought them out of slavery, blessed them with fertile land and all the commandments they’d ever need to ensure they’d live long in it and prosper. They’d become dabblers. They wanted their big old-fashioned sea-parting God and their sexy, new palm-reading gods, too. In the house of Elijah there was only one God: Yahweh, the covenant name God spoke to Moses. Yahweh comes from the Hebrew word to be, and is translated as “I AM WHO I AM” or “I am the One who is” (Exodus 3:14). In Hebrew scripture it is written as YHWH—in English, LORD. Yahweh. Not one of many. Yahweh. Not interchangeable with whatever bright, shiny new gods come along. Yahweh. The ONE who IS. “This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.” (Exodus 3:15). This is what Elijah’s parents taught their son—not with flashcards, but with their very lives: Yahweh is the LORD. Pray. Listen. Obey.

In our post-everything culture, obey has become a four-letter word. Obeying is for wimps. Obeying is for people who didn’t do well enough on their SATs to write their own rules. Only the weak and the feeble and the young—well, not even the young anymore—need to obey. Funny, because the root of the word obey is from the French verb meaning “to listen, or to give ear to.” It was never intended as a militant word, but one of hearing, of understanding. Of getting it. For a world obsessed with staying in constant communication, we aren’t really very good listeners. I don’t think a year goes by when I’m not faced with some perturbed adult shouting, “You’re not listening to me!!!” After I’ve checked myself carefully to make sure that this is not the case, that I am in fact listening, that I could repeat back both the spirit and the truth of what was conveyed, I realize I am looking at a prime example of what we have come to view as listening. Listening means I told you what I thought was the right thing to do and it is so obviously the superior solution that the very fact that you have not reversed your position and implemented mine would indicate that there is only one other explanation.

Come to think of it, we don’t have a problem with the concept of obeying at all, just as long as we get to play God. And let’s face it: we’re pretty sure we could do a better job.

In His absence, we have raised up a new “G” word: Gifts. We parents use it a lot to describe our extraordinary children. Athletic trainers and drama coaches and others who make their living off enriching the lives of short people have learned to toss the word around like confetti at parades in our young prodigies’ honor. In reverent hushes they inform us, “your child has a gift,” and we nod, buttons bursting in the silence.

“Hermione has a gift,” we share with our friends, humbly, incessantly. “They say she could go on to clog dance internationally.”

Although we’re usually overestimating the size and the scope and the magnitude of the ability, we’re not wrong. Our children do have gifts. Us, too. Mine include, in no particular order, writing, teaching, leadership, administration, shepherding, and prophecy. When I consider these gifts, I thank God for them. When I say that my children, Graham and Remy, have gifts, I know where they came from and I know who knows best what they’re for. I can’t hear God’s voice for my kids, but I can watch and listen and pray and adjust and try not to screw up whatever He has planned for their lives. And although I can’t make them listen to God, or even want to, I can plant enough seeds to swing the world in their favor. That said, as I navigate my day surrounded by the parents of gifted children (did you notice there aren’t any average kids anymore—only Gifted and Disposable), here’s where I get confused: if a person believes in gifts but not in God, then where—as they stand in daily admiration of their child’s emergent uniqueness, their heart swelling with pride and joy and, yes, gratitude —where, then, do they send the thank-you note?

Available on Amazon, Feb. 1 2014, Stewart Press

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