Conquering your inner Jonah
I wonder if there isn’t more to the story of Jonah than we’ve understood.
Consider the defining characteristics of the story:
- Call: Jonah receives a call.
- Escape: He runs away from that call, afraid of the unknowns and the consequences.
- Storm: A storm arises and threatens to capsize his escape vessel.
- Sleep: Jonah falls asleep during the storm, while the sailors struggle desperately against it.
- Whale: He is pitched overboard and swallowed by a whale, wherein he languishes for three days.
- Humility: He humbles himself before God and is released onto dry land.
- Submission: The call comes again and he follows it.
- Call: Mike feels an inner call to be an artist.
- Escape: Afraid that he can’t make a living as an artist, he goes to school and becomes a lawyer.
- Storm: His inner turmoil eats him up day by day. His life is stressful and hectic.
- Sleep: He drowns the turmoil and stress in busywork, TV, and materialism.
- Whale: He comes home late yet another night, and his wife drops the “d” bomb on him.
- Call: Michelle feels called to start a charity to help homeless people.
- Escape: Not sure how or where to start, she ignores her inner voice for years.
- Storm: Every day she drives by the homeless shelter on her way to work, her conscience tortures her. She becomes depressed and doesn’t know — or won’t admit to herself — why.
- Sleep: She drives a different route to work and starts taking anti-depressants.
- Whale: She gets fired from her job.
The most pivotal choices in our lives are 1) when we feel the Call, and 2) if we ignore the Call, at some point we end up in the belly of the whale and are forced to reconsider the Call.
The Call rarely comes like a lightning bolt from heaven, with choirs of angels singing. Rather, it comes subtly: small promptings, quiet whispers, persistent intuitions, flashes of insight, illuminating ideas, talents and skills that come naturally to us, paths that interest us.
There’s a reason for this: God wants the choice to heed the Call to be ours. He wants us to own it.
Were He to send an angel and roll out a red carpet for us, our agency would be eroded, the choice rendered meaningless.
He wants us to stare into the darkness, feel the fear grip us, shoulder the burden of doubts and worries — and then choose it anyway.
Because then, our resolve will be that much stronger as we press forward through the fear, confusion, and uncertainty.
The clearer and more unmistakable the Call, the easier it is to quit when it gets hard; we feel entitled to God paving the way before us. “You told me to do this,” we say, “so you’d better make it easy.”
He smiles and responds, “I love you too much to rob you of the blessings that come from the struggle.”
In short, He wants the Call to be a spur, not a crutch.
The Call persists until we heed it — or until we die.
“Many people die,” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes, “with their music still in them. Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it time runs out.”
No, Oliver, not because they are getting ready to live — but because they refuse to heed the Call.
They spend the bulk of their lives languishing in the belly of the whale, leading “lives of quiet desperation,” as Thoreau put it: cowering in cubicles, comforting themselves with job security, drowning out the call with busyness, technology, materialism. Their bellies and wallets may be full, but their souls are empty.
But we’re not talking about them. We’re talking about you:
- Call: Have you received a Call? If not, why are you unable to hear and recognize it?
- Escape: What are you afraid of? How can you learn to manage that fear?
- Storm: Are you tormented by guilt, haunted by remorse? If so, there’s only one way to get rid of them — and it isn’t sleep (metaphorically speaking).
- Sleep: Are you living consciously? Or are you on auto-pilot, going through the motions, living out social scripts, filling your life with anything and everything to avoid introspection and self-honesty?
- Whale: God, in His grace, periodically gives us life emergencies to force us to take a long, hard look at ourselves and reconsider the Call. These are not arbitrary misfortunes, but divinely-orchestrated opportunities. Are you in the belly of the whale? If so, seize the opportunity to reconsider your choices.
If you have received a Call and have done your best to escape it, you have but one choice: humble yourself and submit to the Call. Swallow the fear. Ignore the doubts. Conjure your faith. Step into the darkness.
I left out the final part of Jonah’s story: After submitting to the Call, he succeeds.
And so will you.