The dark clouds keep looming, waves pelting the interior places that no one can see. The wrestle is with my mission. In the honest, raw core of my heart there glimmers an allure of escape. Open to life Motherhood can feel like a wide-open string of crises. Our beloved son is prodigal-bent, and a few Jonah-days lined up one after the other can make the idea of heading due west by sea seem sorta smart. Or just to run and spend time aboard a ship of daydreams—dreaming of some other mission, while letting myself go numb to my own.
In today’s first reading, the incredible resolution has come. Jonah has faced his storm, and now we behold the conversion of the most powerful city of Nineveh in that most powerful empire of Assyria. I sit and wonder for a moment . . . how God had held him hostage in the storm and reached down and cupped his wet and wandering face. How such intense training, even discipline, was the precursor to Jonah arriving at this miraculous victory of his mission. God finally captivated his heart and brought him out of the watery chaos of his own making, and only from that place of repentance and humility did his purpose unfold.
Then I ask myself the hard question: Which Jonah am I?
In my young adult life, I was willing to be single, move to a foreign country, and give it my all . . . to abandon myself to God and radically help bring souls to experience Christ’s mercy. I passionately asked for something wild, mysterious, and uncharted.
Today, I would not readily admit any opposition to my calling to motherhood. Yes, I admit, the ranging needs that span the ages of our one-year-old to our twenty-one-year-old can border on the ridiculous on any given day. I have come to embrace that pouring myself out in gift of service in my vocation brings me great purpose—the endless meals, the loud raucous, the dishes, the vandalism of bathrooms, and the sorting of socks gone astray can even make me smile these days. I am two decades in, and by the grace of God, I have come to understand the resplendent rhythm of serving.
But truth be told, this motherhood mission continually calls me to an abandonment in precisely the opposite direction I could ever have imagined (very much like that of Jonah’s). When the dark underbelly of prodigal behavior spins unwieldy, it all seems too hard to face. Can’t I just make this boy of ours another round of pancakes and not face the evil outside my door? It feels foreign, and I am the Jonah that does not want to face this.
It is so painful to face the reality . . . through tears I whisper it . . . I am not up for this, I do not have what it takes. I am jolted by storms that press against my own understanding of how I think, feel, and believe our story should go. I feel myself pushed headlong into the elements of despairing emotion and gripping anxiety . . . the depression that comes to constrain. Yet God is somehow there shaking me awake to awareness. I must jump ship and sacrifice my own held-fast narrative. I must go deep to the place where I can surrender and repent . . . to turn to God and let his mercy startle my bewildered face. He is there as I admit my limitations and lay down my besetting sins. He pursues me tenderly, the storm itself becoming a hounding, heavenly grace. The grace I begin to receive can now become the grace that must be given. Here. In my motherhood, God is calling me to deeper and deeper levels of self-gift.
It is God’s plan to provide an opportunity of mercy for my son. It is my calling as a mother to be part of this plan, and birth new openness to mercy—not unlike a labor and delivery. It is not unlike a mission to a far-off land. I am ultimately called to give him the message of salvation that comes from experiencing the loving-kindness of God. It is here in the eye of this intense mission that God is reaching out and asking me to open my heart to his plan, and this is my greatest opportunity to receive the gift of wild, mysterious, and uncharted purpose that I have always longed for—this is the way of Christ himself that Jonah foreshadowed as he walked toward victory.