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Weathering Storms and Stomaching Difficult People

A Guest Post by Julie Green

A few months ago, one night at bedtime, for reasons I can’t explain—I typically stay clear of the Old Testament, for the kids' sake as well as my own—I chose to tell Emery the story of Jonah. As I started to explain the opening scenes, Emery pushed back—hard. “God would not do that!” "God wouldn’t tell someone to do that!” He was not having it. I responded as best I could. “Well, that’s how the story goes,” I said, and he reluctantly let me go on.

Jonah and the Whale Hilda Katz

As I was muddling through the telling, trying to remember the details, I came to the turn in the story where Jonah explains to the others in the ship that he is the cause of the storm and that they should throw him overboard if they want to save themselves—and so they do. Emery was stunned and incensed. He actually shouted at me. “They did what? They actually did it? They threw him into the water just to be clear of the storm?”

I cannot tell you how genuinely shocked and outraged he was. And I immediately felt such conviction. My heart broke. Not with shame—although I did feel corrected. My heart was broken open with love, a love the purity of Emery’s response shined very clearly into my heart and soul. And I just can’t shake it. Why has this part of the story never outraged me? How have I always passed over it like it was a perfectly, God-orchestrated, obvious next step?

We hear a lot about not letting toxic people weigh us down. We’re told we shouldn’t let anyone’s neediness veer us off our own course or keep us from fulfilling our own promise. But at some point someone has to take responsibility for the Jonahs in our lives, even when they bring a storm down on us, even when we have to take on the weight of their trouble—their fear, their pain. To be who we're meant to be, we have to learn to weather other people's storms.

As he enters Jerusalem, Jesus explains to the Pharisees that praise is going to break forth—if not from the crowd, then from the very rocks along the road. And I come undone thinking about what should have happened on that boat, if only Jonah and the others had truly been open to what God intended for them. What if the sailors had responded, “Never! We are not throwing you into the sea! We’ll see you through this. Somehow.”

Those men on that boat were meant to care for Jonah, to nudge him toward God, to help him find a way to follow through on the task God had entrusted to him. But in the panic of the moment, for reasons I can all too easily understand, they chose their own safety, their own deliverance, their own future—over his life. As far as they knew or could have known, Jonah would certainly die. That day, those men in that boat had an opportunity to participate in Jonah's rescue, but they chose instead to save themselves.

I cannot judge them harshly, however. How often have I done the same, or something similar? How many times a day?

We all know, of course, that God would not let that be the end for Jonah or for them. As Jesus said, “If those people do not praise, these rocks will cry out.” When the sailors threw Jonah overboard, God raised up a whale to do what they did not. The whale sustained Jonah, sheltered him, gave him the space he needed to be still, to fall silent, so he could hear the voice of the Lord calling him again. So, if you and I reject the calling to bear others in their trouble, to stomach them as they wrestle with God, God will raise up someone else to do it.

Of course we cannot care for everyone in this way all the time. We're not God. We're not anyone's Savior and Lord. But as we are loved by God, as we have his love poured into us, we have to love others with that same love. As we are blessed, we have to become blessers. Caring for Jonahs may weigh us down, may slow down our progress. But we are not meant to hoard our strength, our wisdom, any more than we are meant to hoard our money and possessions. If we want to live lives of holiness, if we want to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, then we'll have to learn to bear others' burdens, and that means we'll have to give up our ideals of comfort and success and we'll have to be ready to have our schedules interrupted and our plans undone. When we are strong enough and know the love of God well enough to understand what it means to be sustained by his faithfulness, we will know that we are sometimes called and chosen to weather even the worst storms with those who’ve found themselves hiding in our boat because they’ve lost their own way.  

I remember the shock in Emery’s voice often. And when I do, every time I do, I come apart again. God, forgive me. God, thank you for helping me see through the pure innocence of my child your heart and your hope for all of us. God, help me do for others what you and others have done for me.

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