Why I'm Inviting Jonah to Thanksgiving

Nov 21, 2022

Who from the past would you invite to Thanksgiving? Perhaps the coach, teacher, parent, sibling, friend, or mentor you never told how grateful you were for their impact. Maybe George Washington, requesting he read his presidential proclamation of Thanksgiving. Would his eyes water? What parts might cause him to choke up? What stories would he tell about each of those sections?

Jonah, best known from his Biblical "big fish" encounter, probably didn't spring to mind. 

I can relate more to Jonah than I’d care to admit. He was angry when the people of Nineveh repented. He was rooting for the “Wipe ‘em out” plan. Jonah knew repentance might lead to God’s forgiveness, and he’d be deprived of watching the city be destroyed by divine wrath.

It’s easy to be hard on Jonah unless you understand Nineveh. This wasn’t a city filled with people who were simply idol-worshippers. Even by standards of the ancient world – which our modern word “barbaric” wouldn’t come close to capturing – Nineveh won the prize for cruelty. Known for its human sacrifices and brutal torture, the city terrorized its enemies.

Jonah didn’t run from his homeland and his calling because of racial prejudice. He was terrified of the savagery which awaited him.

When “sackcloth and ashes” – outward acts of inner repentance – were the response to his “Repent because God’s going to wipe you out” message, he fumed. Sure, he was faithful to the letter of God’s instruction but not to the spirit of the mission. He retreats to a nearby hillside, having selected this as his vantage point to watch the notorious sadistic city finally be on the receiving end of pain and heartbreak.

But it’s hot up on the hillside. Uncomfortable. Lonely. Places of outward compliance and inner resentment usually are.

God, the Gardener, causes a vine to grow with such rapidity that Jonah’s make-shift shelter is covered with what was, perhaps, the original “green roof.” A bountiful vine provides shade, and Jonah is “exceedingly glad.” This is gratitude that comes easy. Give me what I want, and I’m happy.

Until, like Jonah, my circumstances change. It’s easy to sing about having a grateful heart when I’m sitting cozy, waiting for God to execute my plan. But when a worm arrives with a voracious appetite, devouring my pleasant circumstances,  I can go from grateful to complaining in a moment. 

I wonder if Jonah tried to find and squash the critter responsible for the demise of his plant-roof or was too deep in self-pity to even try.

Jonah and God get into it. I have to admit, Jonah’s got spunk. He doesn’t try to hide his feelings from God. I suppose trying to hide your body from God and winding up in the digestive system of a great fish would cure you of the notion hiding from the Creator isn't in your best interest. God doesn’t seem to take umbrage at Jonah’s discourse. Rather, he challenges a change in perspective.

God asks, “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

It seems Nineveh had been so hell-bent on destroying their enemies they hadn’t prioritized education.

That’s where the story ends. What?! Where’s the denouement? The resolution? The happy ending? The hugs of restoration? After the city didn’t disappear in flames, did Jonah stick around and tell the people how to move forward in obedience to God? Did he get up and destroy his shelter in a fit of rage before heading back home? Did he tread back to his country, changed, grateful for such unfathomable grace? I don’t know. Did he move forward into a lifestyle of gratitude rooted in understanding God’s goodness that resulted in bringing that good news to others?

Like the Velveteen Rabbit, gratitude requires action to be made real. Action transforms it from an emotion into a character trait. Action translates it from gorgeous idea to grown-up maturity.

Gratefulness is like world peace: A concept with universal appeal but endless obstacles to making it a reality.

Just like there’s always a major conflict somewhere in the world, there’s always a significant reason to be discontent.

We may choose to approach cultivating a mindset of gratefulness the same way we view world peace: so improbable it’s not worth working for. While it’s a lovely idea, it’s altogether unattainable, so let’s get back to “reality.”

It’s one reason it’s easy to assign intentionally cultivating practices like gratefulness or gratitude a low priority. What difference does it really make? Does the colleague we write a note of appreciation to transform into a friend? Does the acquaintance become a kindred spirit after hearing us express gratitude? Does the neighbor stop complaining about our yard, pets, or kids after we offer thanks for their patience and understanding?

That’s not the point of gratefulness. It’s more about transforming us than changing others.

Genuine gratitude is impossible without humility. Why? Gratitude positions us as a dependent. Whether on God or someone else, gratitude says, “I recognize you didn’t have to ____.”

Gratitude and entitlement can no more co-exist than darkness and light.

As Christians, we live a reality every day that cannot be perceived or measured with the five senses. A reality of truths so profound our minds can’t fully grasp them. We reside, as it were, in an “alternate universe.” Where we can only see the impact of unseen powers, not the personalities themselves.

Hebrews 12:8 instructs, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.”

God invites us to see from a different perspective, just like he did with Jonah.

Gratitude isn’t supposed to be based on earthly circumstances; rather, eternal purposes.

While I’ll appreciate the annual turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie, and dinner rolls we’re privileged to eat in abundance this year, I want gratitude to be more like the chair I sit on than the food on the table. I want to pull it out and use it every day, not reserve it for special occasions. I only want to sit in places of gratitude, not angrily pouting over "unfairness." 


©Stephanie D. Smith, 2022

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