In the hallway outside the children’s worship area at church rests an over-sized cardboard box that once encased a refrigerator freezer. It’s big! One Sunday morning in our 1st grade classroom it transformed the story of Jonah into an experience that those little ones won’t soon forget. As they climbed in and out the “whale’s” mouth, they learned the value of being obedient to God. At best, that was the lesson plan. At the very least, they will remember the story of the big fish that swallowed Jonah. They certainly won’t forget their teacher, Mr. Ralph, and how much he loved them.
I recall hearing the story of Jonah as a young boy. It made quite an impression on me. In fact, I’ve spent much of my life trying to understand and obey God’s call. As a child, I was easily convinced. Who wants to be swallowed up? ☺ Now as an adult I still identify with Jonah—lately, however, it has more to say to me about what “I” have a tendency to swallow as opposed to being swallowed! Listen to the cry of Jonah:
“In my distress I called to the Lord… From the depths of the grave I called for help… [For] you hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I have been banished from your sight… The deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever.”
Ever feel like that? I suspect we all have at one time or another. It’s the darkness of depression. In its most extreme forms, it is known by a sort of “drowning” feeling of worthlessness and futility. Sufferers may be unable to talk to others, continue working, or carry on with the simple routines of life.
It’s no wonder that Jonah felt such inner anguish. The Lord himself had come to him. God said, “Go!” Jonah said, “No!” God’s life-direction pointed NE and Jonah’s compass sent him SW! There in the belly of that fish, when life it seemed had swallowed him whole, Jonah finally woke up to the fact that it was what he himself had swallowed that was the cause of his despair.
The principal contributor to the onset of such inner turmoil is the tendency we have to run from the “Ninevahs” of life—that hard challenge, that terribly painful loss or bitter conflict, that life calling which we understandably want to avoid.
Maybe your Ninevah is some grief or anger you’ve held inside for too long—but now God is calling you to spit out. Perhaps Ninevah for you is an encounter or a responsibility that you’ve been dreading and putting off—when the only thing which will give you peace is to do what needs to be done.
Maybe you aren’t sure what’s at the bottom of how you sometimes feel. If so, go talk to someone who can help. Talk to a counselor, a friend you trust, a minister at your church. Let someone help you with what it is that’s consuming you from within. It is not God’s desire that we ever just swallow.