Is it a push or a pull? One of the biggest questions I have ever been asked.
The last five years have been marked by constant transitions for me; between countries; between cities; between houses; between jobs. When discussing my latest grand plan for adventure, a wise friend asked me, “Petro, are you leaving because of a push or a pull?”
In response to my quiet confusion, he explained further.Was I drawn to leave because I was trying to escape something here or because I was chasing something there?
I felt obliged to say a pull, because running away is wrong is it not? Guilt encapsulated me upon answering though, because I had been Jonah-ing and was not quite ready to give up that comfort yet. Here I sat, contently in the belly of a big fish. I was indeed running away from my Nineveh.
The difference between Jonah and I was that I had my eyes squeezed shut with all my might – determined to ignore the stench of kelp and the slime knotting in my hair. Denial sat between me and being spat out on a beach.
The issue with trying to follow in the footsteps of Jonah is I seemed to have forgotten how the story ended. Eventually, the smell and ick got the better of me and I succumbed to the admitting that I was indeed running away.
God’s grace versus our justice
Like Jonah, I knew that my God is a faithful God. I knew that when I called out, my Father would rescue me. I just pictured it differently from how it actually happened.
I pictured the fish disintegrating into thin air, a five-star shower and fresh outfit appearing on the beach and then going back to the comfort of my own home. Someone else could go to Nineveh. God would show me complete, undeserved grace.
God’s grace instead looked like being vomited up on a beach and realising my fate – I was going to Nineveh anyway. This time though, I got to go covered in fish-muck. Safe from a storm, but still a bit worse for wear.
With my ego a little bruised, but thankful to be on dry land again, I expected God’s grace to look the same for the situation I was returning to as it did for me. Surprise, surprise though, putting God in a box does not work. He is bigger than my expectations and His grace is not dependent on my sense of justice.
Long story short, it did not happen. The people I wanted to be walloped with the full wrath of God were showered with gifts, while my life just seemed to be getting tougher.
Jonah’s (my) response
“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’
But the Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’” (Jonah chapter 4, verses 1 to 4).
I felt entitled to my anger; at the “injustice” of God. As if I could tell God how this story was supposed to end, and how His grace should be defined.
Even when God tried to graciously show me that He was working on a bigger plan, and while my story was part of others’, it was not comparable. I could not compare my successes and/or failures to that of the people around me. I was in my own season learning different lessons.
I returned to Nineveh in order to be able to leave because of a pull rather than a push. In the midst of my frustration with how unfair God’s grace was, I was still desperate to leave my situation. I was still leaving because of a push.
Is a pull better?
As it turns out, the healthier option hurts. A lot. Leaving a situation because of the pull of another means that you are comfortable in your current place. The absence of a push results in a heavier launch – it’s harder to pull something than it is to push it. There is a certain resistance to leaving.
If the new situation was not there, would leaving be attractive? What if the new situation is not all that glamourous? Entering into a new season, or being obedient to God’s prompting, with the right heart-attitude is still uncomfortable.
If Jonah had just left for Nineveh with the intent to obey God and play his humble part in saving the city, how would the story have been different? What if the story of Jonah is not in the Bible to show us God’s grace in saving Nineveh, but rather the gentle patience with which He taught Jonah?
This piece is somewhat unfinished, because I have not leapt yet, and still wrestle with whether leaving for a pull is working for me. I know though, that my God is faithful, gracious and steadfast. He would not have called me to Nineveh for both me and the city to go up in flames.
Both Jonah and Nineveh “won” in the end – it just took Jonah longer to get to his victory because God needed to fix his heart first. Maybe after this adventure I can write a sequel to Jonah’s story: Nineveh revisited (without the fish this time)? Here’s hoping anyway…
Petro is a recent physical education graduate from the University of Otago. Originating from South Africa and growing up in New Zealand has given Petro a love for all things sport and travel. Writing is Petro’s way of making sense of the world around her and expressing the words God places on her heart.
Petro Lancaster is a school counselor in-training and a newlywed wife to her husband, Ansen, who is a worship pastor at their church in Ohio. Originating from South Africa and growing up in New Zealand has given Petro a love for all things sport and travel, and a heart for the importance of community. Writing is Petro’s way of making sense of the world around her and expressing the words God places on her heart.