What we do when we don’t want to do what we ought to do.
When my friend Melissa was 16 years old, she was very having a hard time.
It isn’t easy for anyone to be 16 years old. Her particular burden had gotten heavier when she came out as gay to her not-very-accepting family. She drank. She smoked cigarettes and pot. And she used to cut herself.
Because of a tremor in her hands, she went to the doctor – always a frightening prospect as she was worried that her cut marks would be discovered. The doctor said Melissa had to stop drinking caffeine immediately or risk the tremor becoming permanent.
Caffeine was the least of her problematic behaviors.
Her mom dropped her off at home after the doctor visit, and Melissa called me about needing to give up coffee. I listened with an open heart. Then I joked that it was as if the universe had decided that it was time for her to level up.
She immediately role played with me. (Being that she is into theatre — I purposely spelled that way — she just went with it, making our conversation an improvisation game.)
“Hey, Universe, no, not now, I’m not ready to level up, I don’t want to level up, I’m having a hard enough time, come on now!”
“Next level: no caffeine.”
“Nooo! Nooo! I’m not ready.”
“This level, no caffeine, and you are still gay. And your parents still haven’t come around to that.”
“Come on, Universe!”
“This level, no caffeine, still gay, still living at home, and the level starts now.”
“New level has commenced. Your move.”
“Maybe I’ll make myself one last cuppa coffee.”
I love that kid.
Of course, it’s easy to judge. It’s easy to know what she ought to have done and not done.
After all, we aren’t her.
Let me challenge you to consider yourself. When the universe tells you it’s time to level up, how do you react?
I have often been recalcitrant and reluctant to do what I know I ought to be doing. I have dug my heels in and avoided doing what I know I ought to be doing. I have gone back for “one last cuppa coffee” plenty of times.
Jonah and the Whale
Melissa’s story is as old as recorded history. In fact, her story is in the Bible. It’s the story of Jonah and the Whale.
I find that many adults know about the story, but many know only that Jonah got swallowed by a whale/big fish. What they don’t know is the reason or the moral to this timeless tale. I would like to retell it to you now, albeit, in a modern telling.
(If you would like the “classical” Biblical telling, click here for the Hebrew< http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt1701.htm>, here for the King James Version< https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jonah+1&version=KJV>, here for the New Revised Standard Version< https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jonah+1&version=NRSV>, here for the — the point is, the story is the same in every version. Read mine; I like it.)
Jonah was the son of Mr. & Mrs. Amittai. His name means “dove.” We know nothing about his lineage — he was not related to any king or prophets. He was just a regular Joe. (Bad pun intended.)
At some indeterminate age, Jonah gets a call from God.
God says, “Jonah, there’s something I want you to do in a city to the east.”
Jonah gets on a boat going west.
Jonah goes below deck and goes to sleep.
Jonah awakes in the middle of a huge storm that threatens the ship. Jonah knows that he has endangered the lives of the other passengers, so he jumps into the water, calming the sea. The big fish swallows him whole.
Jonah spends days in the fish contemplating his life. It is there, in the dark depths, that he says one of the most beautiful prayers in the Bible. After he has lost all hope, he says
I was deader than dead until I remembered you, God.
God talks to the fish and the fish delivers Jonah to Nineveh — a city as populated as New Delhi. Nineveh is where Jonah was told to go in the first place. Jonah walks for three days to the center of town and declares, “Hey, listen up! You all are not living the way you are supposed to be living — if only according to your own conscience.”
The inhabitants of Nineveh declare a fast — they mourn their loss of idealism as though it were a lost loved one. They grieve for their own mortality. They weep for all not living the simple, joyful lives they knew they should be living. They cry for reasons hidden, but present deep in their hearts.
The King of Nineveh, when he hears of what his people are doing, joins in their fast and their mourning. And — in what must have been perceived as a bit of biblical humor — the people of Nineveh even dress their cattle in mourning clothes.
Note: This prayer Jonah offers is not about asking for anything. It is an honest outpouring of the heart. And, here is a great quote about prayer by David Mamet: “The purpose of prayer is not to be about an intercession in the material world, but to lay down, for the time of prayer, one’s confusion and rage and sorrow at one’s powerlessness.”
What Jonah was called to do — as difficult as it might have seemed to him in the first place — wound up not being that difficult to do once he actually did it! There is a litany of things that we know we “should be doing” and that we choose to avoid. We know that some of the things on the “to do” list just get heavier the longer we avoid them. We know that the only person we are really inconveniencing by avoiding them is us.
This week’s #wisdom_biscuit: Don’t fight what you know you are supposed to do.
Think about some things in your life that you know you should be doing. Write down one or two:
Circle one (just one).
Now, promise yourself that you will do one thing today towards that goal. (Re-read that.)