As a child, I heard the stories of Elijah hiding in a cave (1 Kings 19), Jonah sulking under a wilting vine (Jonah 4), and the Prodigal Son’s older brother working angrily while the rest of the family celebrated (Luke 15). I wondered why they acted so miserable and self-centered.
Not until recent years did I understand to the core of my being how these good people, bent on being useful and wise and faithful in difficult circumstances, could sink into vindication, depression, and misery.
I felt solidarity with these men from the Bible as our family returned from our vacation last week, as I left places where I saw comfort and community to return to my life of struggle.
Taking a break from our normal schedule toward the end of June, our family drove the long miles to Pennsylvania to take in the wedding of a sweet niece. From there, we motored to West Virginia to visit two of my brothers who live on beautiful homesteads nestled in the hills. Finally, we stopped at my parents’ house in Kentucky where my children jumped and swam like happy froggies in their grandparents’ pond.
In all of these communities, I felt the warmth of family, friends, and long-term connections. I felt both a sense of deep belonging and a sense of aching deprivation, because I don’t have a dozen other moms my age at church or a community of friends next door who hold the same family values. I don’t have much of a history with anyone in my town. I am far from being completely comfortable and known.
Here in my town, I am constantly stretched from my comfort zone, constantly pushing back loneliness so overwhelming that I cannot breathe. I doggedly go to work and buy groceries and take my kids to community events, all the time feeling the oppression of systems that aren’t centered on Jesus.
Oh yes, I find pockets of joy…many of them! The people in my town are kinder than I deserve. But sometimes I am tired. I feel just like Jonah sitting in his booth feeling sorry for himself. I wish God would destroy all the wickedness around me. I’m so tired of it.
That is why I have sympathy in my heart for Elijah, for Jonah, for the Elder Brother. Could it be that they were angry because they were so very, very tired?
And he [Jonah] prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”Jonah 4:2-3 ESV
Rereading the story of Jonah this week, I noticed something. As Jonah sat in the burning sun and shook his fists at God, he found something infinitely precious. God showed up, acknowledging Jonah’s anger but reminding him that God would not destroy anyone He had a chance to save. (Jonah 4:9-11.)
Just as God would not destroy Nineveh while there was hope for redemption, neither would He destroy Jonah. He rebuked Jonah’s selfishness, yet He was not frightened by Jonah’s weakness and wounded pride. God was willing to engage with Jonah to help him gain a bigger perspective in the midst of his despair. And through it all, Jonah knew this was the same God who was merciful and gracious even to the worst of sinners.
This gives me courage, to know that even when I’m angry and complaining because of this world’s wickedness, when I’m prideful and vindicative, God cares enough to engage with me, to enlarge my vision. My rage and despair doesn’t frighten Him away. He corrects me, but He also understands that I am tired.
Just as He is merciful and gracious to everyone in my town, He is also merciful and gracious to me.