Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lessons from Jonah


I'm really bad at Lent. Super bad, some would say. I always attempt to give something up, but in the process slip up once or twice, feel guilty, and ultimately stop trying. So several years ago I decided instead of giving up a vice for Lent, I would take on a good habit. In other words, last year I decided to be more proactive in reading my Bible, making a point to read a few chapters every single day.

Not only did I manage to keep that task up for Lent (trust me, no one is more surprised than me), it has continued now for almost a year. Over time the formatting changed, but basically every morning as soon as I turn off the alarm on my phone, before I check email, before I look at the weather, I open the Bible app on my phone and read at least three chapters. As mentioned here, one of my goals for the new year was to take the time to actually process what I am reading instead of skimming through it like I normally do.

I've been relatively successful; not going to lie, there have been many mornings I've had to continually remind myself Digest what you are reading, don't just look at the words, but every so often something sticks out to me.

I'm reading at the end of the Old Testament right now. Let me tell you, I thought getting through Numbers/Deuteronomy was a chore, I had never tried reading some of the prophets. Seriously, how many times does one group of people need to get told that they are going to suffer numerous afflictions because of their horrendous behavior?? I have been starting every morning super depressed. So when I got to the book of Jonah the other day, I was excited. FINALLY! A story with some plot and intrigue. Yet as I was reading though, a few details emerged to which I had never before paid attention.


(I'm going to condense things down a bit:)

"The LORD spoke his word to Jonah... He said, "Leave at once for the important city, Nineveh. Announce to the people that I can no longer overlook the wicked things they have done." Jonah immediately tried to run away from the LORD by going to Tarshish. He went to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish.... He wanted to go to Tarshish to get away from the LORD. The LORD sent a violent wind over the sea. The storm was so powerful that the ship was in danger of breaking up. The sailors were afraid, and they cried to their gods for help... Then the sailors said to each other, "Let's throw dice to find out who is responsible for bringing this disaster on us." So they threw dice, and the dice indicated that Jonah was responsible. They asked him, "Tell us, why has this disaster happened to us? What do you do for a living? Where do you come from? What country are you from? What nationality are you?" Jonah answered them, "I'm a Hebrew. I worship the LORD, the God of heaven. He is the God who made the sea and the land."Then the men were terrified. They knew that he was running away from the LORD, because he had told them. They asked Jonah, "Why have you done this?" The storm was getting worse. So they asked Jonah, "What should we do with you to calm the sea?" He told them, "Throw me overboard. Then the sea will become calm. I know that I'm responsible for this violent storm." Instead, the men tried to row harder to get the ship back to shore, but they couldn't do it. The storm was getting worse. So they cried to the LORD for help: "Please, LORD, don't let us die for taking this man's life. Don't hold us responsible for the death of an innocent man, because you, LORD, do whatever you want." Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the sea became calm... The LORD sent a big fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights. ---Jonah chapter one (selected verses) GWT

Every little kid in Sunday School can tell you the story of Jonah. God told Jonah to do something he didn't want to do. Jonah tried to run away and to punish him God had the whale swallow him. Once Jonah said he was sorry, then he got spit out.

Except if we look at what the text actually says, we can see that we've been missing the entire point.

Let's break this down:

  1.  God tells Jonah he has a task for him, and sends him on a mission.
  2. Jonah gets scared, decides he doesn't like the task set before him and decides to try to run away
  3. After an indefinite amount of time a horrible violent storm finds the ship, everyone on board is scared and fears for their lives.
  4. The sailors (who don't believe in the Hebrew God) find out that Jonah is responsible and ask him what needs to be done to save their lives.
  5. He tells them to throw him overboard. The sailors don't want to do this because throwing him overboard is essentially condemning him to death by drowning. They pray to Jonah's god and ask him to spare his life as they don't want his blood on their hands.
  6. They throw him overboard, and instead of drowning in the seas, Jonah is swallowed by a fish and manages to survive for three days.

Before I go on, let's look at one undeniable fact: throwing Jonah overboard in the middle of an ocean, who knows how far from land, in the middle of a violent storm.... bad news for Jonah. Right then and there he should have perished, and yet, through some miraculous occurrence, he doesn't die. Let's go on:

 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. Jonah prayed: "I called to the LORD in my distress, and he answered me. From the depths of my [watery] grave I cried for help, and you heard my cry. You threw me into the deep, into the depths of the sea, and water surrounded me. All the whitecaps on your waves have swept over me.
Then I thought, 'I have been banished from your sight. Will I ever see your holy temple again?' "Water surrounded me, threatening my life. The deep [sea] covered me completely. Seaweed was wrapped around my head.I sank to the foot of the mountains. I sank to the bottom, where bars held me forever. But you brought me back from the pit, O LORD, my God."As my life was slipping away, I remembered the LORD...Then the LORD spoke to the fish, and it spit Jonah out onto the shore.--Jonah chapter two (selected verses) GWT

  So here's what we then gather in chapter two:
  1. Jonah is praising God. Sitting in the belly of a fish, he is praising God and thanking him for hearing his prayer
  2. Jonah knew he was going to die down in the ocean, he was physically and literally drowning in the consequences of his mistakes. His anger at the people of Ninevah, coupled with his fear of his task, had caused him to run so far off his 'path' that he didn't even know where he was anymore.
  3. Even in that pit of despair, God didn't abandon him, as one translation states "[he] provided a , a great fish" he "brought [Jonah] back from the pit"
  4. When Jonah was released from the fish, he was put back on the shore, right where he needed to be.

Getting swallowed by a fish, like getting stuck in a pit with a lion on a snowy day, is not what most people would consider a 'good thing'. In fact, on a scale of 1 to horrible, getting stuck in the smelly entrails of a fish would probably rank (hah!) quite high on the worst days ever list. Yet, God didn't send the fish to punish Jonah, he sent it to get his attention and to get him back on track. Given Jonah's actions (running far away from God's calling for his life, jumping on a ship out of town, endangering the lives of others) the natural progression of events all led to his watery death.


But God sent an intervention, an event so memorable it would stick with Jonah for the rest of his life. God threw him a life line, but it probably wasn't the one he was hoping for originally. God PROVIDED a fish to swallow Jonah. If Im getting tossed overboard my prayer is not God please let me get swallowed by a whale, it's going to be God please have a boat pass by really soon, or let me find some driftwood and safely float back to shore. God answered his prayer in a unique way, and it was just enough of a shock to jolt Jonah back into his senses. He takes his journey in the fish's stomach as a chance to get back on track with God and mend the relationship. Then, when he is spit out on the shore, he is exactly where he needs to be physically and spiritually to tackle the task in front of him. Jonah then goes on to save an entire city from destruction by helping them turn back to God (although he does get angry in the process, but that's another topic for another time).


The story stuck out to me for many reasons, but the foremost thought even now, several days later, is this: Sometimes the consequences of our mistakes aren't God's punishments, but rather his redemption and his second chance for us.

There are a lot of things in my life I'm not thrilled about right now; some are my fault, some are not. Reading Jonah's story reminded me that many of the things I view as punishments... even purgatory, are really God's way of helping me reset back to where I need to be to get to the next phase of my life. I'm not saying there' s a calling Im actively running from; I can't put a single label on my 'Ninevah', but I think there are many past mistakes that I have made that cumulatively have put me where I am.


I don't love Miami.

There. I said it. I put it out there on a public forum. This is not where I want to be for the rest of my life, but it is where I must remain for the present. However, instead of viewing it as a punishment, I'm starting to rethink my time here as a chance to reset and get myself back to a baseline where I will be capable of handling the next stage of my life. I want to believe there are big things in store, that this nagging sense I have of something major being around the corner is not just a phenomenon I imagined to make myself feel better. Regardless, I can see now how many of the experiences and opportunities I have had over the past 18 months stimulated growth in me (professionally and personally) that might not have happened else where.

Miami is my whale.


I wish my personal life were different.

I'm quick to acknowledge that there is no one (boyfriend wise) in my past that I think should be in my present or future. Past relationships have run their course and I would not have the life or career that I do now if I had sacrificed my identity earlier for one. When all else has failed I have remained true to myself and for that I am thankful. But I have made mistakes, most recently trusting someone who managed to completely alter my sense of trust and relationship security. (Dating a manipulative drug addict will do that to you). About six months ago I took a pledge to take a year off from dating. I never specifically mentioned it here, but I did refer back to a dating sermon series that significantly changed my life. I felt God nudging me and letting me know it was time to take that leap.

It's been difficult. Very difficult. I lost at least one (male) friend as a result of the decision and trying to decipher what it means in every day practice. I haven't been perfect, and to be honest, a lot of the time, it has really sucked.

But it has also been freeing. To not have that urge hanging over my head all the time, to not have to constantly fight the emotional battles, to not have to stress when I meet a new guy because I know no matter what it's not a possibility right now, it's freeing. Just this weekend, as I was talking to several friends who are going through their own relational difficulties, I realized I had nothing to contribute to the conversation. It was great. No bad boyfriend stories, no relationship drama. When Taylor Swift comes on the radio... no guy comes to mind. I'm loving it.

But it's also lonely, and deep down I know that I am temporarily suppressing one of my deepest desires: to have a family. So for now I'm taking this time as a chance to reset emotionally so when I get out, I am ready to handle the next big thing in my life.

Dating/taking a year off is my whale.


There are many other whales in my life, just as Im sure there are in yours.

But I'm starting to view them NOT as a burden, but as a blessing.  Because my new definition of a whale is a vessel that is taking you where you need to go. Sure it's not always the prettiest (or best-smelling option), but that's the consequence of free will. We get to experience the fruits of our mistakes. But if we let it, our trip in the belly can be a chance to prune away our insecurities and start a fresh.

I'm embracing my whale.

1 comment:

Thanks for taking this journey with me! I always love to hear your thoughts and promise to respond whenever possible.