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“Yea, I’d run away here too – I mean, it’s the beach after all.”
“Hah, but he was actually just jumping on a boat from here right? He was trying to flee to Tarshish… the furthest trading port.”
“I wonder if he thought he could actually run away from God.”
“Was it a whale or a freakish big fish that swallowed him up?”
“I wonder if that story is literal or not…”
A group of us had gone to Jaffa to enjoy a day of sea and sunshine, and naturally the story of Jonah came up. As we discussed the absurdity of trying to run away from “the God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land” my thoughts turned inward.
Three years ago I broke a commitment I had made to God. I had applied for, and been accepted, into a campus ministry internship. It was a done deal by the beginning of my senior year at Stanford; all I had to do was sign on the dotted line. But something in me rebelled. I wanted to live my life. I wanted to chase after my dreams. My final year of school was one of constant tension. I had already committed to a calling, but I felt horribly trapped. I think I stopped trusting God in that season, and began to lean more on my own understanding.
So I pulled a Jonah.
I pulled out of the internship. I allowed myself every whim, throwing discipline out the door. I pursued other philosophies in hopes that they would deliver me from that feeling of obligation. I justified my actions by saying I was tired of serving, tired of sacrifice. I had given so much to God and to the church – this was my time. I won’t lie, I found moments of pleasure and happiness. I had fun dancing about in the dark. But nothing stuck. After graduation I moved three times and tried six different jobs, each time hoping to have that feeling of “Ah, now I’ve arrived.” But I didn’t find it. Instead I started to feel aimless, and what’s worse, I was becoming increasingly self-obsessed and apathetic.
Last November was the ten-year anniversary of my dad’s death. I chopped off all my hair (ladies, you know something is up when a girl chops her hair) and started looking for a new direction. At the time I was working on a sailboat that took visitors out on snorkel trips around the coast of Maui. Life was easy, predictable, diverting at times. But all I saw on my horizon were more nights at the bar, days at the beach, and self-centered pursuits. There wasn’t a point to anything I was doing. There was no awe, no thankfulness in my life. I was often complaining about some inane thing that happened in the course of my day: “She handed me back the mask because there was sunscreen on it – can you believe that? I had to go clean it for her… like she was the Queen of Sheba or something.” That was my biggest challenge: sunscreen on a snorkel mask.
I knew I had to change. I saw what my heart was turning into, and it grieved me. I think it was a true mercy that I was able to step back on reflect on what was happening, and to feel a pang of remorse.
I had heard of Shevet Achim while I was at Stanford, and was deeply moved by their work. Moving to Israel was a dream I had shelved for “someday.” Well, traveling to the other side of the world seemed like a dramatic enough move, so I applied to volunteer. I wish I could say I made this move out of pure obedience, but honestly it felt more like desperation: Please get me the heck out of here. I’m afraid of what I’m becoming.
When I received the official invitation I experienced a deep peace. I knew it was a step in the right direction. But it wasn’t an instant fix – I entertained doubt and rebellion right up to the day I boarded that plane.
I love that God has a sense of humor. When I arrived at Shevet Achim the group was reading through Hebrews 11, exploring the stories of the faithful. Ugh, the faithful. It rankled to read about those who had remained strong in their faith, even when there was no reward in sight. In truth, the first week was incredibly uncomfortable for me. I experienced longing and bitterness. On the one hand, I wanted that faith; on the other, I didn’t want that kind of faith to be possible since I felt I had failed. When we weren’t studying Hebrews, we were in the book of Ecclesiastes, which basically felt like my life for the last three years. Eat, drink, be merry, for all is vanity…very funny God. I experienced a sharp conviction. But rather than feeling a mountain of guilt there was only relief. I felt light hearted again.
In the following weeks God continued to gracefully drive his point home: It is not about you. It is about me, and I am asking you to trust me in all things. I was humbled by the lives the other community members led; they were serving with joy and humility. I mean, they were really serving. They weren’t “serving” a person so they could get a decent tip and buy beer later. They were actually trying to live as Christ did, sacrificially. And when they were struggling, they were honest about it, and called on the grace of God. Grace, sacrifice, surrender; these themes softened my heart and made me hungry for obedience.
In my mind, I was going to stay in Jerusalem for a full year, then maybe look into some reputable grad program, intern with the UN…you know, make something of myself. But as I’ve spent more time in the presence of the Lord, and in fellowship with these beautiful people, I felt a different call: Go back to Stanford. Would you trust me to return and serve where I first called you? I said yes, and let me tell you, it felt like some sort of homecoming. I had not felt that excited, or filled with purpose, in a long time. Peace. That deep soul-arresting peace that is only possible with surrender. But I don’t mean that beautiful, poetic kind of surrender they write songs about. I feel more like that sad sap in the trenches pitifully waiving his white flag – out of ammo, out of strength, with no other alternative but to give in to the rightful victor. I know there is more healing for me, I know this brokenness will turn to love and trust. I can already feel it happening. But in the meantime I know what the Lord is asking of me, and I’m tired of playing Jonah.
It’s a bittersweet realization, as Shevet Achim felt more like home than anyplace I had been for a while. But I think that’s simply what you feel when you’re in line with God’s will: at home.