At some point in our life, we all have been there: unexpected news at the doctor’s office; the call in the middle of the night; the secret discovered or exposed; a decision made. In that moment, we are left feeling lost, broken, and empty. Unsure if our life will ever be the same. Paralyzed by the fear of what lies ahead. We didn’t choose what is happening to us. We can’t control it. We don’t want it—we don’t want to face the unknown.
Our fear causes us to react. Some of us may react in our stubbornness, digging in our heels, resistant to life pulling us forward. Others of us will freeze, crippled by the experience, feeling powerless to move in any direction. However, the majority of us will want to run: run from the pain, run from our unknown future, run from connection with others, run from our relationship with God.
Only two pages of scripture are designated to telling Jonah’s story, but these two pages reveal the heart of those who run from God and God’s heart toward the runner.
God asked Jonah to do something that would be a stretch for any of us. “Go to the great city of Nineveh and pronounce judgment on the wicked people there.”102 Jonah knew God well enough to know what God was really saying: “I want to give your enemy a second chance.”103
Not many of us want our enemy to receive a second chance. Jonah probably responded like most of us would. A second chance? Not on my watch. They deserve to die. We might feel the same about someone who has inflicted pain in our life or in the lives of those we love. Give them a second chance? Are you kidding? God, the only thing they deserve is Your wrath. When God asked Jonah to do something beyond his capacity to comprehend, he ran.
Throughout the countless generations, two categories of runners exist. The first category includes those of us who do not want God’s involvement in our life. For instance, some of us grew up in a Christian home and got to an age where we had to decide for ourselves if we wanted to follow God or not. Some of us leave our parents’ home wanting nothing to do with God. We are determined to have full control over our lives.
The second category includes those of us who love God but want to control a particular decision. For example, let’s say we meet an individual we would like to date. He is not a Christfollower, but he’s cute. We reason that it would be far easier to help a guy become a Christian than become cute, so we run from God and begin the relationship of our own choosing.104
Regardless of the personal reasons we run, our fellow runner, Jonah, offers a few lessons from his experience with running. Immediately following God’s instruction to go to Nineveh, Jonah boards a boat headed for Tarshish, a boat headed in the opposite direction from where God had asked him to go. Life is full of boats waiting to distance us from God’s purpose. This boat headed toward Tarshish provides a great parallel to the things we run toward when we’re running from God. “There will always be a boat headed for Tarshish. If we want to gossip, there will always be someone to talk about. If we want to hang on to bitterness and resentment, there will always be someone we can blame. If we want to mismanage our sexuality, there will always be a site. If we want to compare, there will always be something new to fuel the fire.”105
We can run from God, but we can never outrun God. He didn’t lose sight of Jonah. God never loses track of our lives even when we think we’ve outwit and outrun him. The psalmist declared, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”106
God’s legs are longer than ours. We will never outrun him. In Jonah’s story, we discover that running from God is costly: not only for us but for those who are in close proximity to us. God hurled a powerful storm on the sea that threatened to destroy the ship, the crew, and all their cargo.107 The crew was not to blame for the storm, but they suffered the effects of Jonah’s sin.
We believe the lie that as long as no one knows about our sin, we’re not hurting anyone. We might justify and defend our actions. It’s not a big deal. It’s just a little compromise! However, when we run, we are incapable of controlling the ripple effect.
Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.
What does God do with the runner? If it feels like our life is on a downward spiral, Jonah’s story gives us hope. Mercy often shows up greatly disguised—possibly in the form of a scary, man-swallowing fish. Being swallowed by that huge fish wasn’t God’s punishment on Jonah. It was his rescue mission. God was in the midst of the circumstances that stopped Jonah from running. He will be in the midst of the circumstances that stop us from running.109
God’s discipline is incredibly thorough. It probably took Jonah about three seconds to repent inside the belly of the fish, but God kept him there three days and nights. It was from the belly of the fish that Jonah prayed, “From now on I will fulfill my vows.”110 That prayer is amusing: from now on? Jonah was being digested in the belly of a fish. There is no, “From now on!” One would not have much leverage with God from the belly of a fish.111
This looks like a hopeless situation from all vantage points. Perhaps our situation looks just as hopeless. However, Jonah’s story gives us an opportunity to see God’s heart toward the runner. He listens to the sincere cries of the runner and rescues him.
Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach. The Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.” This time Jonah obeyed the Lord’s command and went to Nineveh..
God is a God of second chances. He has a purpose for our life beyond our running. Just because we ran in the past or are running now does not mean He is finished with us. He knows how we will run and yet the hand that keeps reaching for us is a hand of mercy.113 Our healing begins when we choose to put on the brakes and stop running. The prophet Isaiah records a promise from God to those willing to stop running.
Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.1
As we turn toward God, He breaks the chains that entangled us beneath the waters of sin. His resources are unlimited. He will go as far as turning a tuna into a taxi to get our feet back on the pathway of His purpose for our life.
All of us will experience loss; there is no way around it. What we do in the midst of that experience—how we respond to our circumstance—is important. It will either drive us away from relationship with God and others, or toward a deeper love relationship with God and others.
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.
JOHN 16:33 NLT
Over the course of our eight-year marriage, my husband struggled with pornography use and had affairs. Even when he wasn’t acting out, he was disengaged and lacked the motivation and drive that my parents instilled in me. As our connection and intimacy faded, I felt invisible, unvalued, and unwanted. I tried to be the perfect wife and would do anything to make my husband feel loved and appreciated. With nothing in return, I eventually turned to movies and romantic books as a way to escape. I fantasized about a husband who wanted, desired, pursued, and fought for me. I desperately wanted a take-charge type of man and found myself growing more bitter toward my unmotivated, addicted husband.
An old high-school friend began to connect with me through text and social media. He made me feel so special and loved. I got such a rush when he sent me a message. I started masturbating and fantasizing about being with him and the way he would care for me. He was educated and driven, a real man’s man. The more I thought of him, the less I cared about my marriage.
My friend finally asked me to lunch, which started our secret relationship and affair. It felt invigorating to be wanted, passionately pursued, and physically touched. Although my husband and I were already headed toward divorce, I felt so much shame.
When our divorce was finalized, I thought everything would be okay—that I would go about my single life and raise my two kids. After a while, I felt lonely, but knew my ex-husband was not healthy. The pain of his pornography addiction and affairs were too much for me to bear.
I ended up dating several men over the next year, trying to fill the deep ache in my soul. On my 30th birthday, I sat in my dark house and cried. I couldn’t believe what my life had become. I loved my kids so much, but felt like I had failed them. Why didn’t anybody want to fight for me? I am educated, have friends and coworkers who love me, but I couldn’t make a relationship work.
I was in and out of relationships, searching for something better than what I had with my ex-husband. I felt out of control but couldn’t stop my behaviors. Nighttime would come and the pain of being alone was too much. I desperately wanted connection and love, but continued to search for it in all the wrong places.
I got pregnant: the result of a one-night stand. My heart felt like it had stopped. How would I explain this to my kids? They already missed their dad and begged for him to come home. I wrestled with the idea of having another baby. I had always viewed pregnancy as a life, but now I couldn’t bear the thought of having this baby. My two kids meant the world to me and I knew this would wreck them. My son was already struggling with anxiety and anger because of the divorce. I couldn’t do this to my kids.
As my heart pounded and I fought back the tears, I called the local women’s center and scheduled an abortion. As I entered the clinic, I felt like I was living someone else’s life. The procedure itself was quick. The medical professionals assured me it was safe and very common.
In the months following the abortion, I felt an ache and pain in my heart—a pain so deep that, at times, I thought it would break me. Oftentimes, several glasses of wine helped to dull the pain. That was my baby. I felt stuck between protecting my unborn baby and protecting my other two kids, who had already endured so much.
A year later, my ex-husband and I got back together. Our kids felt safe again. I told my husband about the abortion and the pain still has a place in my heart. At times, I wonder if I am the only one who has ever made this choice. I pray that God will forgive me, even if I can’t forgive myself.
How did we get here? How did we get to this place, unable to manage love, sex, and relationships? How did we become so entangled with our compulsive and addictive behaviors? What went wrong? These can be difficult questions to answer, but foundational to our healing.
We live in a fallen world, so all of us have a trauma story.115 We have been wounded, mistreated, neglected, and hurt. Since childhood, we have experienced pain and trauma that continues to influence our behavior. In many ways, our trauma has become part of our existence, yet we are oblivious to it—unable to recognize its presence in our lives, but we feel it. We feel the way it impacts us emotionally—the way it controls us on a limbic level.
Over the past few months, we discovered how our family of origin contributes to our behaviors and continue to raise awareness through processing our trauma timeline. While we can pinpoint various life events and circumstances that may have fostered our
addictive choices, we are not blaming others. In a very practical way, we are trying to identify the source of our trauma and grieve our losses, so we can begin reconstructing our limbic system. We need to understand the pain of our past so we can reclaim God’s blessing and purpose in our lives.
Identifying the source of our trauma is only part of this process. We have to grieve our losses. We have to feel the loss. This is not so we can feel like a victim, but it is a process that allows us to release the feelings that we have buried deep in our soul—the feelings that are keeping us in isolation, unable to cultivate healthy relationships.
Grieving our losses can be fearful. It requires unpacking the pains of our past and facing the pain head-on. It requires a realistic look at our life. We can no longer ignore the pain and think it will go away. We have to face our fear and grieve our losses.
! my job
! my reputation
! relationship with family and friends
! feelings of joy and contentment
! my innocence/virginity
! financial security
! the life I planned
! knowing who I am—my identity
! a sense of community
! a close relationship with God
! my ability to trust others
As we grieve our losses and continue to process the pain of our past, it is important to
identify significant events, recurring situations, and relationships that created trauma
in our lives. We need to write out our trauma story. Put it all down on paper, where we
can see it—where it becomes real. We need to recognize how our traumatic experiences
shaped our core beliefs, forming the negative messages that often drive our compulsive
and addictive behaviors.
In the space provided, write your trauma story. Write your story in third person, as though
you are telling a story about someone. Be thorough and specific. Write your story from the
beginning of your life. This exercise is intended to help you answer some of the questions
previously asked, specifically, “How did you get here, right now, to this point in your life?”
Be prepared to read your story out loud to your group.
Complete the FASTER Scale, Group Check-in, Self-Care lesson, Thoughts/Feelings
Awareness Log, and Change & Growth Analysis in your Unraveled: Weekly Tools before
the next group meeting.