I might have insomnia. Some nights…sometimes for many nights in a row, sleep eludes me.
There could be many explanations for my strange behavior. Perhaps I am just not tired. Maybe I feel the need to organize my closets, cupboards or Tupperware drawer (type A personalities do this. I know, it’s strange). But more likely than not, my inability to fall asleep has to do with my reluctance to forgive someone for something that was said or done to me. Sometimes I’m reluctant to forgive myself for an offense I committed. Either way, in the dark of the night, when everyone is fast asleep, I find myself face to face with God. And it’s uncomfortable, to say the least.
Sometimes I’ll try to run from this uncomfortable feeling by watching a movie or listening to music. Other times, I’ll physically run—on the treadmill or even outside. I just need to move. I need to escape my own thoughts. But chances are, that no matter how I busy my mind and my body, when I finally tire and the music stops, I still have to confront the same challenge—God has called me to forgive, and I am reluctant to do so.
This dilemma of my mind draws me to the story of Jonah. “Jonah and the Whale” was how it was first presented to me in Sunday school. But the story is about more than just Jonah and a big fish. It’s about God, and how he loved his reluctant prophet so much that he pursued Jonah, even when he ran. God saved Jonah from sure destruction and harm in the most unusual way… by tucking him away in a big fish.
You remember Jonah.
Jonah was a prophet who God called to preach to the Nineveh, home of the Assyrians. The Assyrians were reputed as a brutal warriors, known to torture their enemies. I can understand why Jonah would have been reluctant to go there. Jonah probably knew he would never come out of that city alive if he went on his own.
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.‘ But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.” Jonah 1:1-3
Jonah ran in the opposite direction from where God called him to go. God let Jonah run away, but he didn’t get far before God pursued him.
“Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.” Jonah 1:4
The storm tossed the ship. The sailors were terrified, but Jonah pretended not to notice. Maybe he was organizing the Tupperware drawer in the bottom of the ship. J But when he could no longer ignore the storm raging outside, he asked the crew to throw him into the sea. He saved the sailors from sure destruction. He’d decided that death by drowning was surely better than death at the hands of the Assyrians. He chose drowning over public speaking. (No comment.)
But God pursued him, even in the depths of the sea.
“Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Jonah 1:17
What I love about this story is that God sent a storm. God provided a fish. God pursued Jonah, even though he ran. Like it or not, God does not turn away from us just because we turn away from Him. He uses whatever it takes to turn us back.
Jonah eventually went to Nineveh. And the Bible says the Assyrians turned from their evil ways and repented. The Assyrians tried to run but God provided Jonah, a reluctant prophet, to save them from themselves.
Oh that God would use me in a powerful way like that. Oh that I would listen and obey when he tells me to forgive a wrong that was committed against me. Oh that I would realize that perhaps I am the one who is reluctant.
How many more days (or sleepless nights) do I need to spend in the belly of a fish?
Like Jonah, we may feel the urge to run. Wherever your Tarshish may be, that far-away place where you can finally be alone, it pales in comparison to the “with-God” life that we can have here if we will just stop running.
Lord God, thank you for continuing to pursue me, even when I keep running away. I am so tired of spending time in that fish. I humbly ask for your forgiveness for my disobedience and I seek your direction. Please, run with me. Show me how to do what you have called me to do. I know that you are developing me for a purpose not yet known, and I trust that you will help me get there. In your Holy name, Amen.