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In the Belly of the Whale

Nothing feels better than being vomited up by a whale. 

The story of Jonah and the whale found in the Old Testament is familiar. God told Jonah to go to Ninevah and preach repentance. Instead, Jonah ran away. But God knows EVERYTHING. And he has the whole of Oceania at his command. Hence, Jonah was swallowed by a whale. But seriously, who gets swallowed by whales these days?

How to get swallowed by a whale:

Well, I do, for one. And it's not always for what I might recognize as blatant disobedience.
Take for instance, these less obvious but probably more common ways to be swallowed by a whale:

1. Hold a grudge for a few hours after feeling slighted by a loved one. 
2.  Make a career move despite that pit in your stomach warning you not to. Those feelings are easily written off as "cold feet" when you are emotionally tied to the decision. 
3. Here's a good one: focus on your doubts. That one point of gospel doctrine where your testimony is weak. The role of women in the plan of salvation? Tithing? ...? 
4. Face disciplining a child with your pride. Go ahead and focus on winning that power struggle instead reproving with love. 
5. Or try this combination for imminent whale consumption: Go a week without feasting in the scriptures- maybe just nibble on a quick verse or two before you fall into bed each night. Follow it up with just enough of a prayer to cross it off your daily list of things to do.

For me it's more about twirling the flaxen cord in my fingers than grabbing on to the chains of hell lock, stock, and barrel.

And then a giant whopper of a whale comes along, opens it's gaping mouth, and swallows me whole.

Inside the belly of a whale:

Much of the suffering that goes on inside the belly of a whale is spiritual, making it difficult to describe adequately with words. But here are a few that might come close:
                  Overwhelmed                    Agitated                    Scared                    Hurt
                  Distressed                         Despair                      Trapped                  Offended
                  Anxious                            Lost                           Victimized              Unclean
                  Prideful                           Despondent                 Alone                     Misery     
The belly of the whale represents the very antithesis of the peace, confidence, and assurance brought about by the spirit of the Lord.

Time spent in the belly of a whale might be brief- a few minutes while we regain our spiritual composure. It might be a few hours or days. It might even be months or years.

We might take a while to recognize our predicament, allowing pride to deny our discomfort and hopeless circumstance. We shout from within the obvious gastric environment, "Hey, I'm doing great! What belly of the whale?"

But it is only as we begin to recognize our surroundings and humbly realize our impending doom, that we seek deliverance.

Get me out of here:

Suffering from within the belly of a whale is ALWAYS self-inflicted. It is not brought on by the actions of others. It is not brought on by unfortunate circumstances over which we have no control such as job loss, illness, death of a loved-one, or even being treated unkindly by a fellow ward member. There are always whales waiting to devour someone who uses their agency to respond negatively to such trials.

Once we take full responsibility for how we got into the belly of the whale in the first place, there are a few steps we can take to invite the delivering hand of the Lord.

1. Repent:  If you've taken accountability for your less than favorable circumstances, you've already taken the first step of repentance. Completely and honestly finish the process. 
2. Feast on the words of Christ:  This requires sacrifice and dedication. It requires time. MAKE TIME. A quick nibble- even if daily- will do nothing to help you escape the whale. Period.
3. Pray:  During a particularly long and gut-wrenching stay in the belly of a whale, I finally admitted my circumstances. In the busyness of a mother's day, I locked my bedroom door, and ignoring the knocks and cries of small children from the other side, sought even more solitude in my closet. I closed that door, too. I longed so desperately to be free from the whale and wanted NOTHING to distract me from repairing the relationship with my Heavenly Father. 
I wept like a baby. I looked deeply and honestly into my heart, into my every motivation. I asked for forgiveness and counseled with the Lord. It has become a truly sweet and treasured experience. And though my burdens were not immediately removed, I no longer faced them alone. 
4. Act:  This may include apologizing to your husband or child for acting less than Christ-like. It may include selling your business or breaking off an engagement. It might mean letting your doubts take a back seat to your faith. 

Find yourself on dry land:

Life post-whale is like seeing light for the first time after being held in a very dark place. It's the first gasp of fresh air when you thought you had breathed your last. It is freedom.

Upon finally finding myself on dry land, it is sometimes easy for me to get down about how I got swallowed in the first place. I lament how LONG I spent in the belly of the whale. But of course all that does is whistle for another whale.

Instead I express gratitude for my Savior. That, though we all spend time in the belly of a whale, we are not destined to remain there. It is through Christ's Atonement that each of our Jonah experiences can work for our good.

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Michele lives with her husband and five children in Washington state, where she sometimes gets caught off guard and swallowed by enormous whales. She blogs about everything from daily family life to the greater perspective at Five in the Foothills.

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