I just re-read the story of Jonah, in preparation to teach Sunday School to preschoolers. I reflected on the “irony” of my previous post about weeds and how the Jonah story further drove home key teachings about not seeing the big God picture in our lives.
I can absolutely relate to Jonah. It is humbling to say that.
Being a person who cares for others as my career and mothers three children, I know about compassion. I actually live in an active state of compassion most of the time, which can actually be quite crushing. A dear friend read the definition of compassion to me just the other day and it resonated…I found a similar definition by Merriam-Webster: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. Dictionary.com defines it this way: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
I often can physically feel others’ hurts. This quality that God has given to me is a blessing and also a challenge at times. Though it enables me to relate to others and make them feel loved, listened to and cared for, it also can be smothering when the weight of others’ burdens becomes heavy in my heart and mind. I have found it a challenge to allow Jesus to help me with this type of yoke, this type of burden, this type of right hand work…
Recently, I have been faced with an in-your-face Nineveh in my own life. This place is filled with people who say mean things, pass judgment on others and value first power and prestige on earth while stepping on those they consider to be less than. I have honestly had a very hard time showing compassion on these… I have also felt as though I may even want them to be judged…punished…
Just like Jonah, I have felt that there is absolutely no way that God would really want me to go there. And…though it has been clear that he is not leading me elsewhere, I have forged the opposite direction…trying to make my own path, kicking and screaming the whole way.
And, just like Jonah, I have felt as though I have been in the midst of a stormy season.
The storms of life are different and dare I say harder…than those that occur in nature. The cloudy threatening sky is at least a warning sign that helps us to seek shelter. Stormy seasons in life often happen without warning.
And when you have an extra dose of compassion…there is an even greater expanse of rain, thunder, lightening and wind gusts…because the definition of compassion is very true…you actually feel others’ burdens as if they were your own. And, you SO want to alleviate them from their pain…all the while deeply desiring deliverance for your own.
In the struggle to find balance for this compassion, I have cut off those I don’t feel deserve that part of me. And the very act of doing this, has perpetuated the storm and cut me off from God’s best in my life.
I have felt thrown out of life’s boat. Thrown into the crashing waves of the sea, tossed all around, seaweed tangling around, predators circling and waiting to take a bite. In desperate flailing, keeping only my mouth and nose about the water’s surface…I have been rescued…but not as I would imagine…for I have been in the belly of the whale.
This place. It is dark. There are not really any familiar sounds…those I hear are muffled and unclear. There are bones and partially digested food stuffs surrounding me. There is a constant churning but I am unfamiliar with it’s pattern as it changes with each influx of water-mixed-prey. Because I feel lost and insecure in this place…I go to my strength…I pray…I remember God…just like Jonah did…
“In trouble, deep trouble, I prayed to God. He answered me. From the belly of the grave I cried, ‘Help!’ You heard my cry. You threw me into ocean’s depths, into a watery grave, with ocean waves, ocean breakers crashing over me.
I said, ‘I’ve been thrown away, thrown out, out of your sight. I’ll never again lay eyes on your Holy Temple.’ Ocean gripped me by the throat. The ancient Abyss grabbed me and held tight. My head was all tangled in seaweed at the bottom of the sea where the mountains take root. I was as far down as a body can go, and the gates were slamming shut behind me forever—
Yet you pulled me up from that grave alive, O God, my God! When my life was slipping away, I remembered God, And my prayer got through to you, made it all the way to your Holy Temple. Those who worship hollow gods, god-frauds, walk away from their only true love. But I’m worshiping you, God, calling out in thanksgiving! And I’ll do what I promised I’d do! Salvation belongs to God!” (Jonah 2:1-9)
Jonah felt as though he had been buried alive. And, when he felt his life slipping away…he remembered God.
Isn’t that how we function? In the midst of the storms, the hurt, the confusion…only after we have tried everything else to fix it ourselves…only then…do we remember God.
We remember God. Who always remembers us…
After this prayer of Jonah’s, the whale spit him out onto dry land. God again asked Jonah to go to Ninevah…and this time he did. Jonah went and warned the evil city about the destruction that would surely come if they did not change their wicked ways.
And they repented…a whole city was saved!!! What mercy and grace our God has for ALL people! Jonah must have celebrated that these human beings would be spared God’s judgment!
But…he was not.
“Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God, “God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness! “So, God, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead! (Jonah 4:1-3)
It truly gut wrenching at times to show compassion to people who do not show it back. It is even more difficult to see sin-filled humanity and it’s evil prevailing in our world. It is not fair.
It is not fair that we would be saved either, though…as we are not sinless. Though the Ninevahs of our lives may be more blatant in their sinning, what would our heart depths reveal about our own sinful natures?
God is merciful to all. He rescues us all. His grace and mercy are endless. God doesn’t want us to go the other way…to have to send a whale to swallow us up so we can learn…but He will if He needs to. Our God would go to the length of sending a giant fish to swallow us to save us from ourselves! How awesome is that?! How super natural is that?
Today and every day, I am thankful for God’s word and how very alive it is for each of us. Though we may not want to go where He is calling, His plans are always best. I have seen this play out in my life so many times. Let us live lives where we surrender to His plan daily. One little baby step at a time. One acceptance of his daily manna at a time.
“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” Proverbs 16:9