When the Whale Doesn’t Come

This post isn’t for you. It’s for me and for those who have found themselves lost at sea. It’s one o’clock in the morning. The wind is blowing outside and the hum of the box fan propped up in the window can be heard vibrating through the house. It’s 80 degrees outside. And it’s 80 degrees inside. The forecast says the weather is supposed to change and begin storming later in the morning. So be it.
I’m five months and nine days into a season that I never wanted to be in. I’ve lost my church. I’ve lost relationships. And I’m lost somewhere between Tarshish and Nineveh. I’ve been tossed overboard and there’s no whale in sight.
But it’s not just me. My wife and children were lashed to me when I was tossed and they tumbled overboard involuntarily.
And we’re clinging to driftwood.

So be it.

At first we sang songs of promise. We recited stories of redemption and salvation. It caused the salt water to taste a little sweeter.
But we saw mere potential and called it a promise.
Our songs have grown quieter. Our stories are fewer.
Silence is the glue that holds our hopes together.
And the salt water was never sweet.
It burns our throats as we swallow. It always had.
These hours melt into days and the days go by unrecognizable from one another. It’s Sunday again?
And so we cling to one another and we grapple for whatever grip and hold we can find among the drifting debri.
If I knew which direction to go I’d swim there.
I’d love to swim. Long strokes that stretch the back with the violent and controlled kicking that propels. I’d love to swim. I want to swim.
If I could get my bearings from the stars, l could know which way to kick.
But I don’t know how to get my bearings from the stars. None of the antique stores in Hannibal carried astrolabes.

So be it.

22 Sundays have come and gone. I’ve counted them. I’ve spoken them. And I’ll recite them again;

2nd Sunday after Epiphany
3rd Sunday after Epiphany
4th Sunday after Epiphany
5th Sunday after Epiphany
6th Sunday after Epiphany
7th Sunday after Epiphany
Transfiguration Sunday
1st Sunday of Lent
2nd Sunday of Lent
3rd Sunday of Lent
4th Sunday of Lent
5th Sunday of Lent
Palm Sunday
2nd Sunday of Easter
3rd Sunday of Easter
4th Sunday of Easter
5th Sunday of Easter
6th Sunday of Easter
7th Sunday of Easter

You didn’t read them all did you? I get it. It’s hard to do. The words melt together into a bland porridge in the brain.

How long did Jonah tread water? At what point in his struggle to keep his chapped lips above the water was he swallowed into mercy? How many times did his head sink below the waves?

Here’s the thing about salt water; it stings within the wounds, but it helps you see through the water every time the waves drag you under.

Eyes open to the monsters below. But not all monsters are there to kill. Some rescue.

So I’m learning to hold my breath as my head goes under, open my eyes, and watch for leviathan.

What happens when God doesn’t rescue?

The psalmist cries, “Hear my cry, o God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint.”

I know, I’ve read those lines a thousand times, too. But, and maybe as with you, I didn’t trust the writer. I dismissed him as dramatic, too sentimental, words to be relegated as libretto in a Victorian era opera.

But nothing makes the heart panic like tasting saltwater. It’s only when I can find the tremble of terror in the psalmist’s voice that I get it. Only when I can smell the saltwater on his breath do the words pierce my spirit.

My heart is faint.
My rope is running out.
Disaster looms.
The end of my earth is near.

Rescue me.
Or don’t.
But let me know either way.

I don’t want to have to preach to myself. But there’s no other preacher spilling the words to soothe my pain.

Here’s what I would say if I had to say anything:
God isn’t rescuing you. God is with you.
The hell you are going through isn’t who you are.
Your location in the middle of a sea of destruction isn’t your true position.

The psalmist goes on to say,”Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,”
and “you have been my refuge…”
God was his refuge in the MIDST of the end of his hope.

And “a strong tower in the midst of my enemies…” In the midst. With.
“Let me dwell in your tent forever. Let me take refuge in the shelter of your wings.”

A refuge…shelter…strong tower…but not rescued.

This preaching doesn’t elicit amens. But hear it.

I think mercy swallows us just as we let go and slip under the surface of the water, resigned to death. It’s in the sinking. It’s in the freefall.

But I don’t know how to die. I don’t know how to inhale the water. I don’t know how to stop thrashing. I look around and those lashed to me stare back in wild-eyed panic.

How do I teach my family to die? What’s that pep talk? Where’s that children’s book?

We must learn to drown. We must learn to sink.

“I believe in Jesus Christ…He suffered under Pontius Pilot, was crucified, died, and was buried; He descended to the dead.”

So be it.

The next wave is about to crash and I swear I can see the dark outline of something just below the surface.

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