For the last week the family & I have been hanging out on the shores of Lake Winnipeg; specifically the beaches of Gimli. We started the week with rain, but then … day after day of soaking up the sun and chasing the waves, you can’t beat that. There’s nothing like cottage life. I absolutely love it!
I’ve also developed a ritual. In the mornings I grab my lawn chair, my towel, a cup of tea, and hit the beach. The first thing I do is jump in the water, very refreshing (it’s a big cold lake), and then I park my body in the chair and stare out into the lake contemplating its vastness and its beauty. It’s my quiet time with the Lord and today as I watched the sail boats going by, with some like dots way out on the horizon, I started to think about a guy named Jonah.
I think for the most part everyone has heard the story of Jonah and the whale, but basically it goes something like this: Jonah is a prophet and he’s been given a task by God. He is to go to the city of Nineveh and tell the king and all its citizens to repent or the city will be destroyed. The Ninevites were a cruel and nasty people. History tells us that they would cut off the lips and/or ears of their prisoners and string them together as a necklace. Sennacherib, a powerful ruler of Nineveh, was quoted as saying of a war with Babylon “Its inhabitants, young and old, I did not spare, and with their corpses I filled the streets of the city.” And at one time Nineveh was the biggest city in the world. It was here that Jonah was to go and speak his message but instead Jonah takes a ship in a different direction. The ship is overtaken by a severe storm and when Jonah finally takes responsibility for the storm by saying that he’s running away from God, the sailors throw him overboard and Jonah is swallowed up by a whale! Eventually the whale spits Jonah out and he goes to Nineveh, there he grudgingly tells the people to repent, which they do, and the whole city is saved.
The entire story can be found in the bible, but for now I want to focus on Jonah’s time in the belly of the whale. It seems to me that sometimes God has to get us into a place where he can deal with us one on one; sometimes an uncomfortable place. I think there were a lot of things going on inside of Jonah, and for him, his place was the whale. He may have been afraid of the Ninevites, (who wouldn’t be), or maybe the task (his purpose) seemed so impossible and overwhelming that he just wanted to get away from it all. The scriptures also say that Jonah didn’t want God to spare the people of the city. Perhaps he felt that the Ninevites weren’t worthy of God’s grace and mercy!
Sometimes the noise of the world drowns out God’s voice, sometimes a lack of discipline and structure create a false sense of freedom, and sometimes people think that rules or laws prohibit them when in actuality they exist to provide safety. Sometimes we need our own “belly of the whale” experience, and sometimes we need God to take us to a place where he can do what he does best; heal, guide and direct.
In a sense places like Teen Challenge, our Shayil Home Women’s Addiction Program, etc., are today’s whales; they are places where people can get the help they need. Our Women’s Addiction Program isn’t the answer to the girl’s problems, but it’s a safe place where change can take place. Yes we have rules, and yes there is a schedule, and yes there is a curfew … and yes we randomly test for drug and alcohol use, and yes you can’t always do what you want, BUT it’s also a place where you can get alone with God, and it’s a place where you can take up your issues whatever they may be with him.
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen someone go into an addictions program, very often from a broken or dysfunctional family (so sad because the family unit was always intended to be a place of structure, safety and love), and/or full of un-forgiveness, or simply abandoned and left to fend for themselves, who desperately needed a ‘whale’ experience. They come to us hopelessly lost and in need of direction. We all need rules and guidance, after all, even the laws of the land are founded on the 10 commandments!
Having said all of that, it’s a hard thing to willingly step into the mouth of the whale! Even harder to stay there till you’re ready to come out. Recently we graduated two women from Souls Harbour Rescue Mission’s ‘Shayil Home’ Women’s Addiction Program, and so to Stephanie and Leota and all of their children I say CONGRATULATIONS!! Job well done. You endured, you persevered, you overcame, and the truth set you free. Now you’re ready to be spit back out too. Why? Because your own purpose awaits you. So go get it!