Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a trend in my life: I feel like I know where God is leading me, I follow, and when I get there, it sucks. Not like, oh, today kinda sucked. Like, it’s been months and 3-4 days out of 5 have sucked. I found myself starting to question whether God had ever led me anywhere. If I was imagining things. If I had completely missed God’s purpose for my life. Because from where I was standing, I hadn’t accomplished much & 30 years was a long time to still be clueless as to my purpose. Or His purpose for me. For someone like me who has never had faith in spades, this wasn’t the greatest realization.
Anyone who has spent time in Sunday school, or attended a baby shower of someone who has, you’ve probably seen/heard this verse in a card, on a plaque, embroidered in a sampler: Jeremiah 29:11, ” ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares The Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” (NIV)
Or from The Message (cause I’m digging that lately): “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out - plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”
Knowing that God has a plan is awesome. But if you’re a dot your i-cross your t sort of person (like I am, for better or worse), that’s often not quite good enough. If you go too long without a plan, the fear sets in that maybe there isn’t a plan (which we know isn’t the case - see above). Or maybe there was and you missed it. Maybe you got it wrong (*gasp*). So I’d spent the better part of my adult life convinced that I’d gotten it wrong.
Or maybe I was expecting something more than God had promised.
If you re-read that verse, or the whole passage for that matter, God never says that you’ll get to know the whole plan. Or any of the details necessarily. Just that He has a plan, and if we seek Him, He will find us. Even when we are found, there is no promise of happiness, only communion. There isn’t anything that indicates that God’s plans for us won’t have challenges. Or that others will play along with those plans - don’t forget there’s a human element of free will that can’t be overlooked in situations that involve other people. And if we’re being honest, what situation doesn’t involve other people?
The Bible is full of situations where God makes something good out of something less than stellar. But those situations aren’t without a struggle. Which brings me to Jonah. We all know the story. God gave Jonah a mission; Jonah wasn’t feeling amenable to God’s plan; Jonah hopped the wrong ship & almost killed everyone until he convinced the crew to throw him overboard; Jonah was swallowed by a whale & spent 3 days in the belly of the whale learning his lesson; the whale vomits Jonah up on the shore; Jonah carries out God’s plan after all. The lesson is obvious if you’re Jonah, or you’re in a Jonah-like state of mind: when God calls you out on a mission, you don’t negotiate. You follow His plan.
But I think there’s a lesson to be learned from the whale here, too. Certainly the whale played a part in this larger-than-life object lesson. Whales don’t normally eat people. And while I understand they do regularly throw up on the shore (apparently, whale vomit is valuable stuff & is a common ingredient in many fine fragrances - eww), I’m fairly certain that whales don’t normally keep undigested anything in their belly for 3 days just to vomit it up whole again.
Imagine the compulsion to eat a person, when you normally strain plankton all day. That’s just weird, God.
Imagine how uncomfortable it was to have a cranky, panicky, overly dramatic Hebrew man in your belly for 3 days. (Jonah is a short book - and wow, is he a drama queen! Read it - you’ll see.) This is uncomfortable, God.
Imagine how out of his element this great fish must have been, swallowing, holding and then vomiting a person out of his belly. Shouldn’t this make more sense & be more harmonious if I’m doing what you asked, God?
I think there are many times that we expect things to be normal, comfortable, happy & harmonious if we’re following God’s plan. After all, He laid it out for us, right? That’s what Jeremiah told us. But after years of questioning whether I had ever gotten a glimpse of God’s plan, I realized God never promised any of those things. He promised that we would be on this journey together and any fringe benefit is purely that.
Sometimes you’re Jonah, and sometimes you’re the whale.
It is easy to talk about the suffering & sacrifice of the historic figures in the Bible. Many of them struggled, toiled, were persecuted, all for following God’s plan. The apostle Paul comes to mind. Following God’s plan didn’t do wonders for his life from an outside perspective, but think of all the churches he planted & the believers who heard God’s message because of Paul’s diligence. Maybe Paul was like the whale.
During a conversation with my husband the other day, he encouraged me by telling me to think of all the positive impact I may have had on those around me, just by being where God wanted me to be. I countered that that was pretty hard to judge; my memories focused on the challenges that I faced during a specific time in my life. He pointed out how many people I still maintain relationships with, on any level, who I met during that time, and how highly they speak of me to him. I’m not so vain as to compare myself to the Apostle Paul, but just maybe I was kind of like the whale in that situation, too. It was uncomfortable, taxing, exhausting, difficult and certainly, I could see no greater plan in that moment. Unless my purpose for being where I was at that time, in that place, was for someone else, not myself.
God has a plan for each of us; one that may be revealed in strange ways and probably won’t make perfect sense to us until we’re privy to understand God’s perfect sight & wisdom. But just because it’s uncomfortable now doesn’t mean we’re getting it wrong. Maybe we’re just taking our turn being the whale.