Today is the final post in my series of four lessons from the Biblical story of Jonah. The four lessons are:
Attachment is tricky. We all need some level of attachment in our lives; if we weren’t attached to the need for food, clothing, and shelter, we wouldn’t survive. If we weren’t attached to others, we wouldn’t experience love and joy—and also pain and grief.
Jonah’s problem was that his attachments were connected with expectations. The fourth (and last) chapter of the book of Jonah is all about his attachment to his own expectations about the results of things. He was angry because God told him to proclaim punishment to the Ninevites, but then God relented and did not punish them when the Ninevites repented. I imagine Jonah thinking, “This makes me look bad! I said God would punish them, and he hasn’t!” So God grows a bush to teach Jonah a lesson—and sure enough, Jonah gets attached to the lovely shade provided by the bush, then angry again when he loses it.
You see, the root of Jonah’s problem is his attachment. If he had been able to metaphorically take a step back and see the Ninevites from God’s perspective—with love and compassion, and a strong desire that they would change their ways, for the benefit of all—then he would not have run away in the first place, but instead would have happily gone to Nineveh to preach, probably with a different spin: “Here’s a way that you can avoid the calamity that is coming upon you!”
Buddhists talk a lot about non-attachment, in ways that are in keeping with this lesson from Jonah. They believe that attachment to things, results, and expectations is the root cause of suffering. In the late Middle Ages, St. Ignatius of Loyola used the word “indifference” in a very positive way, as an indicator of the importance of being indifferent to, or detached from, the results of our prayers. His method of prayer is still widely used today, and the message continues to be an important one. We need to trust that God has in view a bigger picture that, at times, we cannot possibly comprehend.
So how often do you act like Jonah, responding purely from your attachment to results, rather than from a God’s-eye perspective? What would it take for you to be indifferent to the results of your prayers, your actions, or your way of life? Can you trust God to be keeping tabs on that bigger picture, and perhaps sending modern-day Jonahs to preach to modern-day Ninevahs?
Have you ever been called upon by God to preach a message like Jonah’s?