Monday, May 24, 2010

In the belly of the whale

Today would have been my 8th wedding anniversary...if I had not gotten divorced nearly a year ago. I'm left feeling somewhat ambivalent today. On one hand I am well aware of my current status as a divorced mother of 2 and on the other hand it all feels rather raw and difficult, still. It was also one year ago this week that I announced to my husband that I believed we needed to separate. It was an ultimatum of sorts...either work with me or I'll not work on this anymore. I meant it, and we were divorced just a few short months later.

I was re-reading the story of Jonah and the whale recently. I was inspired to re-read the story after an author I've been reading talked about it as a story of finding oneself. As I looked again at the story with fresh eyes, I was taken by how fully I can identify with it.

The story begins with Jonah on the run. He hears the voice of God loud and clear and he dives in the bushes. Or rather below deck. I was struck by the observation of how Jonah (in his running away) fell into a deep sleep. As if he wasn't too bothered by the fact that he was on the run. It doesn't seem to be a big problem for him, at first.

I feel much the same. In the beginning, when I first started moving away from who I was, I wasn't even really aware of it. It was like a slow that was carrying me away from what I knew for sure and from God. By the time I reached the point when I began to understand that something was amiss, I had drifted far from home. I almost felt unrecognizable to myself. I hadn't just run away from home, I had created a new home where up was down and wrong was right. I couldn't recall who I was. And when I started wanting to, I just became more upset with myself, with God. How to make sense of this mess? Who am I? What do I need? What is my "call?" What the hell do I mean by that anyway? The questions overwhelmed me, and I wasn't sure that I had any faith, let alone enough to sustain this sort of bumpy ride to nowhere in particular.

Still there was something compelling me. Or perhaps more appropriately stated propelling me forward. A deep recognition that something seemed different. That God was with me, even then. Even in my darkness. Maybe especially in my darkness. While I felt I was groping for something I couldn't see clearly, I understood this dance was not *the* dance, and I had to break away.

The others on the boat wake Jonah up and tell him to stop the waves from tossing the boat so they can live. Jonah's wake up call is loud, profound and leaves little room for doubt. And pretty soon he finds himself thrown overboard into the raging sea. It doesn't take long, and Jonah is swallowed up, and next thing he knows he's in the belly of the whale suddenly ready and willing to go to Nineveh. Amazing what desperation does to us.

When I was startled awake, I found my own wake up call loud, profound and leaving little room for doubt. I knew life had to change and move and grow. What had been static was now dynamic. I could no longer stay in a marriage that was artificial and harmful to me. I could no longer pretend I didn't care or wasn't affected, when I did and I was. But I had no idea where to go and how to start. What I did understand, fundamentally, was that life was a-changing. And I could either run like hell, or try to adjust my eyes to this new place. To see what was around me, in me, through me.

As Jonah sat in the whale's belly - he had time to think and to see clearly, with his heart. So too, I have had the past year or so as time to try and make sense feel deeply what I know is let go of fear. I can't say I get it...or that I'm always able. But certainly there is a new recognition in me. Of God. Of me. Of God and me. Of communion. Of what it really means to be in relationship with as opposed to trying to relate to. The belly time is important I think. Although for this impatient woman, not an easy thing. I heard a song recently that said something to the effect of "if it all happened overnight you would never learn to believe." There's value in that. Some sort of wisdom. I get it. I'm listening.

A few nights ago I was really struggling. Thoughts racing through my mind and I couldn't shut them off to try and sleep. The same sorts of thoughts I've struggled with for did my marriage/relationship/life get so off course? How did I not see what was right in front of my face? How could he do that to me? Why me? Why any of us? Where the hell is God in this mess? And after laying in bed restless for an hour, wrestling with the multitude of thoughts, I finally just whispered, in a moment of panic "Jesus help me." Out of my desperation. Out of my depths. It was the only thing I knew to do. And while the thoughts were still there, I was able to sleep. I had some measure of peace. Even here. Even in the belly of the whale.

The story of course doesn't end in the belly. I realize that I am approaching that moment when I will be coughed up onto the shore. While I long to feel forward momentum, that moment is a little worrisome for me. What will it look like? What shore? What then? Now more than perhaps any other moment, I trust the answers will come. And at the rate and depth I can handle. If I've learned anything in the belly, it is to have a little faith. That when I feel at my most vulnerable, if I can whisper, "Jesus help me" - that he will. It really only takes a little faith. Nothing that's moving any mountains.

Sometimes I realize that but for the belly time, there would be no authentic faith. No life-giving faith, hope, joy. And perhaps that has been the most valuable lesson of being in the belly of the whale. It is only in the belly that I learn that faith has texture and layers and depth beyond what I ever knew intellectually. It becomes sustaining rather than just something to fall back on. As I remain in this time, I hope I am preparing for what is to come while still tasting what is now. I hope I can appreciate this time and accept the gifts that come with it.

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