(Note: This article also appeared at RelevantMagazine.com )
Jonah may be one of the oddest books in the Bible. A man lives in the stomach of a fish for days, humongous vegetation grows overnight, a whole city repents simultaneously.
But this verse always struck me as especially strange: “Meanwhile Jonah had gone down to the lowest part of the vessel and had stretched out and fallen into a deep sleep.” (Jon. 1:5b) How could Jonah be sound asleep on a wildly lurching ship during a storm?
Then recently as I read the book, I had a sudden realization: I knew how and why he did that.
Jonah was severely depressed.
If you’ve ever struggled with depression—and I have—you know that sleep is one of your main escapes. In the depths of dejection you might be able to do it any time; mid-morning, late afternoon, an hour after getting up from a nap.
Of course, Jonah may have been susceptible to depression; his extreme reactions to the vine incident at the end of the book indicate that he struggled with emotions and perspective. Brain chemistry and family history certainly contribute to this condition but I’ve also learned from experience that the reluctant prophet would have opened the door to a powerful dose of despair when he resisted his calling. When he denied the very thing that the author of his life designed him for, he was assailing his own soul. That kind of denial and rejection will quickly lead to depression.
Why do people like Jonah—and I, and maybe you sometimes—resist our calling; one of the things that God created us for (Ephesians 2:10), and something that can certainly bring us and others joy? It could be fear, it could be laziness, pride or belief in a lie. Whatever it is, it’s not in line with God’s Word, and it’s probably making you miserable.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert said, “Is it logical that anybody should be expected to be afraid of the work they feel they were put on this earth to do?“ I think not. And as Jonah found out, it’s no way to live.
So how can we learn to embrace our calling instead of resisting it? Here are some things we can do:
Resist checking out and let God speak to your destiny again.
Ask Him to show you even the smallest ways that He is speaking to and through you in a day and respond to them.
It’s easier to escape through distraction, medication or procrastination than thinking about your life’s dreams. Bingeing on cat videos or chasing a daily buzz from your go-to adult beverage may bring temporary relief from the perceived pain of pursuing our calling but like Jonah’s detour, they delay us from discovering our destiny. Instead, resist those unproductive habits and begin going to God for direction on what He may have planned uniquely for you life.
Review what God has called you to do, or ask him to clarify what that is.
Several years ago, as I settled into my annual New Year retreat with God, I realized my life felt profoundly “stuck.” As I got quiet, I felt led to look back through the past year’s journal entries instead of thinking ahead to the coming year. I discovered that there was a common theme God had been highlighting, and I’d been ignoring it.
This opened my eyes to why I felt stuck and reaffirmed the calling I’d been avoiding. What are some markers in your life you can look back on? Can you page through old journals to look for themes of what God has been speaking over your life? Are there people you used to share your life’s dreams with? Maybe it’s time to return to those places and remember what God has been speaking to you over the course of your life, and reaffirm your commitment to it.
Reject fear, laziness, pride or lies that keep you from your goals.
Nelson Mandela said, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” It’s time to take an honest look at how these things are affecting your choices. What choices have you made lately? Odds are, if you’re experiencing depression because of resisting your calling, one or more of these faith-killers are bedeviling you. Don’t let them steal from you anymore. Confess this to God and make deliverance from them a daily petition, like in Jesus’ prayer, “… lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13); in this case the temptation to fear, be lazy or believe the lies that God is not capable to bring about the calling He’s placed over your life.
Choose to collaborate with God to build the future.
Step out in faith and risk a little. Ask Him to show you even the smallest ways that He is speaking to and through you in a day and respond to them. He’ll gently lead you to bigger things and as you continue to follow through your faith will become stronger. If you decide to revise your faulty thinking and commit to trusting His plan, He will reveal steps to take in your calling. Make them a matter of prayer, but take them. More will open up as you move forward but keep moving forward despite your worries.
Ask someone to keep you accountable to pursuing your calling.
The essence of prayer is collaborating with God to release His kingdom in the world. Our lives can be a prayer of collaboration with Him. If we endeavor to trust that He wants to include us in the wonderful work He is doing in the world, life can go from fearful, inert and hopeless to an adventure punctuated with joy. As uncomfortable as it might be, let someone you trust into your struggle of pursuing your calling. Share what holds you back, and invite them to reciprocate. Set goals and check in with each other. Commit to pray for each other when the Holy Spirit brings it to mind.
Realize you don’t have to do everything perfectly.
God works in the imperfections. Stop worrying about getting everything right and trust God to work through your weaknesses. When we recognize our limits and God still works through them, He gets all the glory. And that’s the beauty of it. You were designed specifically for this time and place, and the world needs what you have been called to do. Begin building.
Resisting your calling—especially when you clearly know what it is–will lead to depression. Pursing your calling, under God’s direction and in his time will lead to joy.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
J. Scott McElroy is the author of Finding Divine Inspiration (Destiny Image) and The Creative Church Handbook: Releasing the Power of the Arts in Your Congregation (InterVarsity Press). He directs The New Renaissance Arts Movement and blogs at JScottMcElroy.com. Reach him at Scott(at)TheNewR.org