You know that feeling of drowning? You’re just swimming in a pool or a lake somewhere, and suddenly something startles you and you suck in a big lung-full of water, and you’re hacking and gasping and your nose and throat burn a bit and you feel this sense of panic for a few brief moments that’s really uncalled for since you’re not actually drowning.
I have that feeling often. Not physically, but emotionally. I get stressed out and I feel like I’m “drowning.” Drowning in a sea of commitments and responsibilities, of the emotional burdens of myself and loved ones. I’ve always used that phrase to describe my moments of extreme stress. “Mom, I’m drowning!” I don’t know how many times I’ve used that phrase throughout my life; in high school when I had said “yes” to far too many obligations, while sifting through the decision of where to attend college and then juggling being a collegiate athlete and student, when we were applying for overseas jobs and making the decision to move to Bolivia…. That sickening, “drowning” feeling always seems to creep up on me. Being here in La Paz and teaching at Highlands has not changed that fact. Changing homes, leaving family and friends, teaching 5 different classes, leading a discipleship group, learning a new language and culture… all of these things (while great!) causes serious stress!
One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Jonah. I feel like I can relate to him in so many ways. You know the story – God commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh and share the Word with them. Jonah had other ideas. He wanted to control things in his own way and do his own thing. However, that caught up with him, and in Jonah chapter 2, he describes his moment of drowning – for him, it was actually physical as well as spiritual and emotional!
Here’s how Jonah describes his drowning experience in Chapter 2:
“From inside the fish, Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said, ‘In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit. When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols turn away God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’ And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.”
This passage is so impactful for me. Reading it always helps to pull me out of the sea of stress. Several things stand out to me that I’d like to share with you.
First, in verse 3, Jonah specifically says that it was the Lord who “hurled him into the depths.” This causes conflict within me. It’s easier and more comfortable to think of our loving God as letting us do our own thing and go our own way, all the while providing blessings to us as we go. However, that is not the case. In reality, it is indeed because God loves us that He does not always let us do our own thing! When we are trying to control every part of our lives and we refuse or simply forget to rely on Him, we experience that “drowning” to remind us that we cannot do it on our own! Our stress is caused by our disconnect from God. Sometimes, God uses these drowning moments to call us back to Him.
The second aspect of this chapter that impacts me is Jonah’s crying out to the Lord in his distress, which culminates in verse 9 where he declares that “salvation comes from the Lord.” Jonah recognized his errors and repented of his disobedience and desire to take matters into his own hands. He gives up his stress to the Lord. In our stress, we too can “cast all our cares/anxiety/worries on Him (God), for He cares for us” as it says in 1 Peter 5:7. He will provide salvation for us, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable circumstances!
Finally, in the final verse of the chapter, it says that “the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” This verse always makes me smile a bit, and reminds me that sometimes, the Lord’s salvation of us from our stress and drowning, though good, can be messy. I mean, who wants to be vomited by a fish?! Certainly not me! But even through messy situations that we wouldn’t necessarily have chosen, God can save us from our stress, from our circumstances, and most importantly, from ourselves. If I have to be “vomited” in order to be saved from “drowning,” so be it!
As I continue to work through the stresses of living and working here in Bolivia, I hope that I will continually rely on God’s strength to get me through. And, when I start to rely on my own, and begin to drown, I hope that I will remember Jonah and his story, and call on the Lord for His salvation, no matter how messy. And I also hope that whatever stressful situation you find yourself in – whatever sea you are drowning in now – you, too, will find encouragement in Jonah’s story. Good luck, and I hope your salvation is a little easier than fish vomit. 😉