Maybe the most common behavior associated with avoidance is the fear of God’s “call” on our lives.

The “Jonah syndrome” refers to how we not just avoid the plan God has for us, sometimes we are so vigorously opposed to our purpose that we run from it.

The book of Jonah, found in four short chapters of the Old Testament, shares with us the astonishing account of an attempt to run from God. Here is a summary of this sacred story:

Jonah

  • Jonah is a prophet called by God to minister to the people of Nineveh.
  • Nineveh is the capital city of the ruthless and evil nation of Assyria, who is a fierce enemy of Jonah and his people.
  • God directs Jonah to preach to the Ninevites.
  • Jonah avoids God’s directions by running away.
  • Jonah’s flight results in mounting problems: he is caught in a storm at sea, thrown overboard, swallowed by a large fish, and turned back towards Nineveh
  • when the fish spits him out.
  • Jonah finally faces his God given task, preaches to the Ninevites, and the whole nation repents and is forgiven.
  • Jonah becomes the most successful prophet in the Bible, but when he sees that the Ninevites are forgiven, it throws him into despair.

At the end of the story, Jonah faces the pain that was fueling his avoidance:

We can only imagine all of what was in Jonah’s heart about having to confront his enemy. However, one thing is clear, the truth that Jonah was facing, God’s truth, was very painful. It was contrary to what Jonah believed, felt, and thought. When confronted with God’s plan of mercy, Jonah wishes he could die rather than have to accept this reality. And in a dynamic moment, we witness God speak to Jonah:

“Should I not have compassion on Nineveh,
the great city in which there are
more than 120,000 persons who
do not know the difference between
their right and left hand …”
(Jonah 4:11)

God’s plan was to provide an opportunity for mercy to the Ninevites. It was Jonah’s calling to be part of this plan, and deliver God’s message. Jonah was to warn the people of Nineveh, and ultimately give them a chance to survive and experience the Lord’s kindness. When Jonah was confronted with this reality, it was too much for him. Even though, technically being part of a preaching mission that would save 120,000 people would make him one of the most successful prophets ever known, God’s plan was difficult and painful.

It is often so difficult for us to seek and accept God’s plan for our lives, that it can affect us in the same way as it did Jonah. At the same time, to open our hearts and accept His plan, is our greatest opportunity.

Many plans are in a man’s heart,
But the counsel of the LORD will stand.
(Proverbs 19:21)

Daily Experience

In our final exploration of avoidance, we focus on God’s call for our life. Here are some defining questions that will help us detect avoidance of God’s guidance in our life:
  • When we struggle emotionally, or in whatever situation, do we earnestly seek the Lord’s guidance through prayer, and reflection on scripture?
  • Do we evaluate our own actions (decisions with career, family, friends), by regarding the Lord as master of our life?
  • Do we allow others who seek God’s voice to genuinely speak to us about our way of life, our daily decisions, or how we see the world. In other words, are we open to genuine accountability in all of our habits and in all areas of our life?
  • What is our attitude toward suffering? Are we willing to suffer in order to go in the direction that Jesus leads us? Do we look for this opportunity on a daily basis?
  • Do we live a Spirit-led life? Are we prepared to submit to the Holy Spirit in our daily lives, and in every situation?

Many of us want to run or hide from our life struggles. We often think that it is our situation that causes our emotional pain. If we can only get away from a problem, like our marriage, family, friends, or job, then everything would be better. Instead of accepting pain as a signal that something is off track in our lives, we run. Unfortunately, we often mistakenly flee from our purpose and responsibilities and increase our suffering. We believe the lie, “I should always feel happy.”

We see the opportunity of acceptance in the story of Jonah. He had to face the overwhelming pain in his life, not run or try to avoid it. When he did, Jonah received a great gift. God spoke through his pain, and into his life. Amazingly this is where the story ends. Was Jonah able to hear God’s voice and accept the truth spoken to him, or did he turn and run?

We have the same opportunity of acceptance in whatever struggle brings us to counseling. We can accept Jesus as Lord, and seek Him moment by moment. Often in our pain, we become closed off to this and need help to turn things around. At Christian Counseling Associates, we seek healing through opening our hearts to God’s call. This happens in the context of people who will love us enough to hold us accountable when we are off track in our minds or in our lives. We sometimes need help to humbly admit where we may have been running for a long time. Tired of the Jonah Syndrome in your life? Reach out today, we are eager to help.

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