This post is longer than usual, but like you, my thoughts are boiling over lately. Plus, I have had more time to write, which is how I process things. As we look at our present dilemma intertwined with Jonah’s may you be encouraged to remember “we are all in this together”.
Even before “time-out” was a thing for preschoolers, I venture to say we all had our version of it. I counted to three, slowly, so my young’uns had a three-second time of reckoning to decide if their chosen activity was worth it. Some used the “go to your room” or “sit in the corner”. Whatever the details, good parents gave their children time to reflect and reform. The first thing occurring to me at the onset of social distancing, was ‘did we need a time-out this badly’?
As the news fills another day with Covid-19 reports, my heart stings with sympathy for the cities harboring large numbers of cases, even deaths, from this unruly virus. Our minds as well, are consumed with the growing numbers, questions, and the temptation to pull into ourselves or worse, ignore caution. Though I try to avoid seeing the news first thing each day, I am glad to get daily updates from our Governor Beshear (4 PM daily, Kentuckians!) and his reminder that we will all get through this together. Still, when I hear of the rapid invasion into our health and economy, my heart gets a squeeze of fear; a fear that our part of the country will, as the New York City mayor predicts, be hit just as they are. For a moment, I too, need a time-out.
As I read encouraging posts and check on others, I am able to refocus and realign the outlook of doom. I see well people staying well and spreading wellness from home, and it reminds me, God said, “Be ye kind, one to another”. I fear for former co-workers, still on the frontlines caring for patients, and I remember the Holy scripture, Philippians 4:6-7, so I pray for them with gratitude for everything they are doing. I wonder how long we can hold out from hugs and handshakes, public assemblies and schools for our children. And I remember we are just a speck in the timeline of history and this too shall pass. I am almost afraid to let others know that I wonder if God is allowing this time of uncertainty, and yes, fear too, so we will reflect on responsibilities and reform our priorities. It wouldn’t be the first time He used a bad situation for good. Nor would it be the first time people needed a time-out.
Then I remember Jonah.
Jonah was told to go preach a message to another city; one that was doomed for destruction. That city was called Ninevah, but it could just as well be called Louisville, New York, Seattle, or Podunk. Jonah was not fond of the request. In fact, he flatly refused. Hiding out on a ship that went in the opposite direction from his calling, he brought his fear along with him in the form of a storm for the ship’s crew. That could just as well be our storm of fear, of hungry children, lonely elderly or a depressed brother or sister about to go down with the ship as we hunker down and hide; amid a sea of challenges that we could throw ourselves into to calm the storm.
Before long the ship’s crew realized they had a cast away, and reluctantly threw Jonah overboard to save themselves. Jonah’s honesty in the midst of the storm allowed the mariners a good look at the true God, with the result of their seeking Him and sacrificing to Him in gratitude for salvation. Ironically, their salvation from the storm was due to obedience in fear of the God Who brought the storm to Jonah. Maybe a little fear goes a long way. It is a natural reaction that causes us to seek safety.
Now, we know God is always a step ahead, and He knew then too, that Jonah was about to perish before he could carry out God’s orders. God prepared a great fish to be a sort of holding place, saving Jonah from drowning and giving him a time-out. Where is my time-out? Anytime my usual activities come to a halt; anytime circumstances incite me to look inward and upward. Am I listening to the Spirit when I read the Word, hearing what my Creator is telling me to do; or am I just reading words, checking a to-do list and hiding from the things I do not want to do? I’m so happy to not be on a ship of irate mariners, for I too, am guilty. I hide for many reasons from the command to “go”.
Am I in the belly of my fish, with time to meditate on God’s commands? It most likely is not to go preach, in my case. But I bet it is something like “feed my sheep” with food for the hungry, education for former children of war in Uganda and Congo (check out Exile International); or it could be with a phone call to a lonely shut-in. Kim Holder, an executive assistant, is the best at sending cards, her mission to carry out encouragement and send hope. Kathy Hargrove, retired teacher, is conducting school at home for grandchildren, babysitting as well, and praying big. My former co-workers are providing nursing care when they no doubt would rather be bunkered in at home. Ministers are seeking ways to spread good messages and serve the needs of people with errands, food and supplies. In recent years, Bethany and Matthew Williams have led a life-giving mission to the people of Africa. Last week, Judith Darnell, a retired hair stylist with her own health issues, made a quilt for a friend facing an uncertain diagnosis. Cindy Lassiter, retired teacher, gives many hours every week to bring happiness to residents of a nursing home. Diana Darnell, hair stylist, began sewing masks at home in effort to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. These are only a tiny sample of all the efforts that make me swell with pride in people; yet feel so small, showing me up on the days I feel like being selfish and hiding down in the ship. Thank you people for inspiring others and fueling hope.
Jonah’s story did not end in the belly of the great fish. In time-out, his heart was changed, and God told the host to evict Jonah onto the shore. You might think Jonah hopped up and cheerfully ran to Ninevah to proclaim his story. He did go, but only said what God gave him to say, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” The people believed God (Jonah 3:4-5 NKJV). God saw their repentance and turned his wrath away, saving the whole city of 120,000 people. It’s an interesting story, how even with a bad start in life, even if with a bad attitude, we can carry the message effectively if we tell it like it is – according to God’s word.
The book of Jonah ends in uncertainty as far as Jonah is concerned, sitting in the heat with a dead gourd, grumbling about the unworthiness of others. But the message he was given to deliver was about God, His wrath; repentance and forgiveness; not about Jonah. We each will decide how to use this time-out, courtesy of Covid-19. The difference is that God sent that storm to let Jonah know you can’t hide from God. But God doesn’t send storms directly on us in this dispensation, or time of history. He already did all that to prove His power and spread His word all over the world. Then He sent His only begotten Son to seal His promise of saving us from our sins if we will believe and obey.
I can be grouchy and moody, sitting with my dead gourd, wondering why the things I think important aren’t everybody’s priority. God says there is a whole world of people, all important to Him; including me. I have to say, although I am so sorry for the illness and the overtaxed health care system, I am thankful for a time-out to enjoy a slower pace; more time to reconsider priorities; daily chats with family; and getting in touch with important biblical messages instead of unimportant chores. Funny how some things just aren’t that big a deal anymore. Oh yes, I am still standing on my head in the flower beds, but that’s a stress reliever and a hobby, not simply a chore.
I remember the promise that my earthly existence will be like the blink of an eye, the life of a flower, and then an eternal life. Whatever the world throws at me, it is nothing in comparison to eternity and spending it in praise, in the presence of the Creator of life! My prayer is “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, oh Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
Stay home; when you do leave by necessity, remember 6 ft distance, wash hands at least 20 sec, and leave some toilet tissue for the rest of us. ♥