“I cried out the Lord in my great trouble and he answered me” Jonah 2:2
Those of you who know me will be aware that I am very much an extrovert! I love being with people and nothing makes me happier than sharing food and friendship with my church family. So you would think that lockdown would be my worst nightmare! And when it commenced back in March I have to confess that I was fearful that I would find a long period of isolation and restriction too much.
Yet in fact, much to my surprise this has not been the case at all. In common with most of us, I have found being separated from my loved ones really hard and the novelty value of zoom meetings soon wore off. Live streaming became a mixed blessing which was both life giving and anxiety inducing – especially after the hair on fire incident on Pentecost! Queuing at supermarkets became a boring necessity and as for the lack of a decent hair cut – well don’t even go there!
However despite these small challenges, lockdown has not been the dreadful experience I had predicted for myself. In fact I have really appreciated time spent alone. I have discovered that actually I’m not bad company and while I love my family and my friends immensely, I can happily spend time with myself without feeling bereft of anyone else.
I’m not sure whether Jonah’s time spent in the belly of the whale could be considered as a lockdown or a retreat but it certainly was an extreme way of getting away from the world! In fact I accept that the story does sound a little far fetched but whether to not you believe literally that Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish and spent three days hanging out in it’s stomach, coming to no harm at all, I think there are two aspects of the story that have meaning for us today.
Firstly, Jonah relied on prayer to sustain him throughout this time. He cries out to God, who not only hears him but answers his prayers by providing a place of safety. I am sure many of us have cried out to God over the last there months. There is an interesting statistic that there has been a 40% increase in the number of times that prayer has been entered into the search bar of Google There is evidence that large numbers of people who have never felt drawn to any form of faith in the past have begun to explore what God means in the context of their lives. We know that there has been considerable internet traffic as people have joined online worship.
Jonah knew that in order to come through the trials he was undergoing, he need to cry out to God, despite the fact that this was the same God from he had been running away in the first place. He “remembered the Lord” (2:7) and he promised to “fulfil all my vows” (2:9) The time that Jonah spent alone in the darkness of the whale’s stomach enabled him to re-evaluate what was important to him and to realise that he was being called by God to serve Him and that rather than running away from this, he needed to accept and embrace the task.
Jonah became aware that running away from God was not an option and that is true for all of us now as it was then. When Jonah was restored to dry land, he still wasn’t completely sure what God was asking of him and although he tried his best to be obedient, he continued to have moments of doubt. This is true for us all. We try to be obedient to God’s call but sometimes we are frustrated in this and we begin to doubt not only ourselves but also sometimes God. And that’s ok. God knows us in our weaknesses as well as in our strengths and he continues to love us as steadfastly and faithfully as ever He did even when we struggle to love Him, and perhaps even more at those times.
Jonah’s story is a wonderful example of God’s compassion. He is compassionate to Jonah despite his disobedience and He is compassionate to the people of Ninevah, regardless of their lack of love for Him.
That compassion has never gone away, that love remains the same as it did before the pandemic, during lockdown and now as we begin to emerge from the restrictions under which we have been living.
If we cry out to the Lord, He will answer us. We just need to listen to what He says – and act on it.