I’m starting to feel like these stories are everywhere. I’m living them and hearing them and watching them unfold in front of me. I’m offering prayers for solutions and being convicted of the ways I am part of the problem. I bounce from frustrated to judgmental to empathetic to remorseful. But the more I listen, the deeper I go with friends and trusted souls, the more I think there is something going on here.
I have some evidence for this theory: stories my closest people have told me about the way others have damaged them with words; experiences I have lived of being confronted about something that I immediately wanted to defend and scream ‘no, no, you are misunderstanding!’; and more than a few misjudgments on my own part, conclusions I had drawn about someone only to be told more information and realized those conclusions were arrived at much too quickly. And in the end, there is a question sitting in front me that grows more powerful with each season of my life. Simple in grammar, fully loaded in weight of conviction. This question: Am I for you? Four words, that’s it. But they are starting to undo me.
This all started almost a year ago, this thought that I could be caring for the relationships in my life much better. And then the evidence started piling in and making sense in my head, and then came Jonah, that short book of the Bible that most often gets reduced to a debate over the probability that someone could survive in the belly of a whale. That, or it’s told as a reminder that God will come after you even when you try to run. Which is true, and a very important characteristic of God to find immense comfort in: he is a pursuer, and how gracious of him! But keep reading the story. God was not just pursuing Jonah, and he was not chasing after him for Jonah’s sake alone. He told Jonah to go, Jonah didn’t. God taught him a lesson. So Jonah went. God was clearly thinking of the millions of souls in Nineveh, and he was not going to let Jonah’s judgment or cowardice stop His plan for the good news to reach them.
God was for Jonah, but if we miss this I think we miss the whole point: God was so very for the people of Nineveh. And even when the message finally got there and the sinners repented and mourned that their own choices had kept them from a loving God, the guy who was supposed to be the hero reveals something about himself that hits a bit too close to home for me: he still thought he was ‘better than’ the Ninevites, more worthy of grace, more acceptable to God, more holy, more spiritual, more right, just more. Jonah wasn’t for the city of Nineveh.
I see myself so much in Jonah. A woman who believes in God and wants a role in his work in the world, but so often misses this: I wasn’t saved so that I would have high self-esteem, or so that I could reach some elusive self-transcendent stage during my lifetime. I was saved so that I can be for others, so that I can talk about grace in a real way, so that I can spend a lifetime on someone and something else.
Our default mode is just so much about us, isn’t it? How we are perceived, if we have a good reputation, if our homes are nice enough, if our children are well-behaved enough, if the work we produce is enjoyed enough, if we have enough followers (can you even believe that is a thing?), and on and on. And I think if we are really honest with ourselves, sometimes we use other people as the standard to make these judgments. 'Enough' sometimes simply means more than the next person, and instead of truly, from our hearts cheering on the people in our lives, we are secretly hoping they do ok, but not better than us. We want them to take risks, start businesses, adopt children, be applauded and loved, but we don’t want it to take away from our own sense of acceptance and belonging. There is this lie the enemy tells us that says if someone has a lot of one thing, there won’t be enough to go around for us. And it is a lie; it’s the very opposite of the heart of God, whose message is lavish, abundant grace.
When I sat with these things, my perspective got rocked a bit. And now I’m starting to ask myself this question every single day: Am I for you? Am I a woman scratching and clawing for attention, or am I humbly offering my best and cheering on your best? Because the gossip, the cynicism, the comparing, the false pretense and the manufactured measurements of success are all too revealing, and I think what they really show is a whole bunch of people preaching one thing and walking out another. Are when really surprised that the gospel, and followers of Christ in general, are so misunderstood by people outside of the church? In my life, I know I will never really fall deeply in love with Jesus unless I am for what he is for. And friends, that’s everyone.
Time for the heart check: no more withholding words of encouragement, no more behind-the-back judgment, no more fancy rhetoric to prove how right I am, no more pretending. There is so much work to do in this world and we have such a short time to do it in. And I know the work pace will increase a hundred fold if we just can be for each other. It’s only then that we can truly be for the rest of the world. Let’s leave behind the things that hinder us, and let’s acknowledge that very often these things are of our own doing and from our own pride. And then let’s get to work, because we have to. Oh goodness, does the world need Jesus followers to get to work.