I remember the exact month I was the most in love with God. It was April 2016 and my college group was discussing the book of Jonah on Monday nights. Every Monday I’d bawl my eyes out at Cornerstone because I couldn’t believe just how much God was speaking to me and it was painful.
2016 hadn’t started out too well– a lot was changing and I was mourning the life I thought I deserved. God had given me so much over the past year and then all of a sudden it was gone and I was angry. But when April hit and we began digging into the story of Jonah I knew God was showing me exactly why he’d taken it all away.
I knew the story of Jonah- but just the basics. Mostly just that he ends up in the belly of a whale. Or that’s what my Sunday School teacher told me when I was little. Turns out, we don’t know if it was a whale or not but that is hearsay.
I think what struck me the most during that sermon series happens throughout Jonah 4:1-11. Jonah has FINALLY decided he’s going to obey God and go to Ninevah. He is there, and he is angry at God for having mercy on the city. Jonah is hanging out, telling God he is so mad he wishes he was dead. God takes mercy on him as well and gives him a vine for shade. The Bible says Jonah was really happy about this vine because it cooled him off. He was grateful for the vine- it was temporary relief and happiness, but he never thanked God for the vine. He never recognized that the good thing in his life was a direct gift from God. So, God took the vine away overnight.
As I write this, I’m looking at the notes I took during that sermon. I wrote down the phrase “a vine-centered person falls in love with the things that God gives”. I remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach as I wrote that sentence. I actually can feel it now. It was the most bittersweet realization that I had (literally) fallen in love with the thing God had given me, but hadn’t taken even a second to praise Him for it. I took it (or the person, rather) and ran….and forgot all about where it had come from. In the end, God took it away and left me wrecked. But used that heartache and a month of discussing Jonah to show me why.
Now let me be honest. The past few months have felt yucky and unsettled. I feel like an emotional roller coaster and most of the time an idiot for crying over silly things. Last night it was a mouse. Today, cold coffee and some doubt from a friend. God has been testing my limits this summer and I’ve been quite angry about it. In the last week or so I have been questioning why He took away the only vine I felt like I had…the one thing providing me with some shade from this temporary discomfort.
I was listening to a podcast with Hannah Brencher (MY GIRL) and she was discussing her relationship with God in terms of a garden….weeds, plants, you get the gist. She explained the importance of maintenance of the garden; tending to it so that the plants could grow. All this discussion of greenery put me right back on a church pew in April 2016 and I just cried and cried because it was the most perfect realization. Yet again, I was praising a vine instead of praising the One who gave it to me. I’ve been feeling far from God and it’s my own fault. In all of the muck and mess in my own garden I found a plant and was STOKED. So stoked that I shifted all of my attention away from relying on God in the midst of a storm, and focused on this vine for some temporary relief.
There is a fine line between honoring God with your actions, and honoring your actions without thinking about God. I’m pretty good at honoring my actions and hoping God’s light will shine through me–but in general I’m not honoring God so its all a waste of time and a fake show. I think that is where I’ve been in the past few months, hoping God will show up, without too much effort. Spending my time loving the vines all the while my heart has been aching.
So here I am, and I’m sure someone else is right here too. Or has been, or will be. It’s uncomfortable and extra emotional to feel abandoned by God, but I think the truth is that we actually abandon Him. He is trying his hardest to get our attention always, but sometimes we focus on the things He’s given us, rather than the Giver himself.
From what I’ve been thinking about this morning, I think the answer lies in tending to the garden, rather than an individual vine. Shifting attention, sitting in His presence and letting Him tend to my achy heart.