Then God said to Jonah, “What right do you have to get angry about this shade tree?” Jonah said, “Plenty of right. It’s made me angry enough to die!” Then the Lord said, “So, why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh from anger to pleasure, this big city of more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong, to say nothing of all the innocent animals?” – Jonah 4:9, 11 from The Message
This passage was quoted in the March 7th stillspeaking devotional (I certainly would encourage everyone to consider signing up at: www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/daily-devotional/). The passage spoke of “first world problems” like getting a flat tire on your jet… or trying to decide what you’ll pick up for dinner. The book of Jonah is a wonderful pairing with that idea. In just a few chapters we encounter Jonah’s reluctance to follow God’s will, but we also encounter Jonah’s stubborn refusal to accept that God might care about a group of people whom Jonah despises. When Jonah complains about the loss of a shade tree, he’s really complaining about life not being all about him and his desires. What a first world problem. And interestingly a problem that humanity has a very hard time transcending.
I write this article in the midst of Lent. As a congregation we have had another wave of hospitalizations, and a wave of funerals, such things quickly offer perspective on my complaints about our reluctant spring or a whole host of “first world problems.” Being in community always challenges us with a sense of perspective beyond ourselves. Being in God’s community challenges us to look even beyond our neighbors, to listen to the news differently, to laugh and grieve with those not only next door, but on the other side of the world.
I have been hearing around our house about the lighthearted decision to give up Oreo Cookies for Lent… a first world problem (wisely the girls didn’t even try to forgo all chocolate). When I listen to the list of things that people “give up” I often wonder and sometimes ask, how often in forgoing that temptation that they take the time to think about God? Or how often do we take the time in the wanting to consider the promise of hope that God offers – not so much with cookies as with hope in the midst of grief or despair.
God would remind us that we are beloved beyond our imagining… and at the same time God would remind us that it’s not all about us, it’s about all of creation.
A couple of weeks ago I came across a couple of beautiful reflections on living Lent differently, I think they’re really more about how we practice living life into God’s presence. I would share them with you not merely for lent, but as antidote to everything from first world problems to Jonah’s disappointment that God cares about more than just Jonah’s desires. They read as follows:
How to fast…
Fast from judging others;
Feast on Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from apparent darkness;
Feast on the reality of light.
Fast from bitterness;
Feast on forgiveness.
Fast from thoughts of illness;
Feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from anxiety;
Feast on hope.
What to give up…
Give up complaining… focus on Gratitude
Give up pessimism… become an Optimist
Give up worry… trust Divine Providence
Give up bitterness… turn to Forgiveness
Give up hatred… return Good for evil
Give up negativism… be Positive
Give up anger… be More Patient
Give up pettiness… become Mature
Give up gloom… enjoy the Beauty all around you
Give up jealousy… pray for Trust
Give up gossiping… control your Tongue
Give up sin… turn to Virtue
Give up giving up… Hang in there!
Our journey of faith should always be pushing us to shift perspective beyond ourselves to try to see as God sees. We stretch beyond our limits to imagine what it would be like if we lived “as if” this was God’s kingdom. It’s a tall order, but together we journey little by little into what we pray is Kingdom come. Lent, it’s not all about us. Our journey of faith, it’s not about first world problems. May God bless us in opening ourselves more deeply to a relationship with God with each passing day.
In the love of God,