Journeying With Jonah: Sitting with Discomfort

Journeying With Jonah: Sitting with Discomfort Discomfort isn’t something we welcome with open arms. It’s the prickly fabric against the skin, the pebble in the shoe on a long walk—always a signal that something is…

Journeying With Jonah: Sitting with Discomfort

Discomfort isn’t something we welcome with open arms. It’s the prickly fabric against the skin, the pebble in the shoe on a long walk—always a signal that something is amiss. Yet, in the story of Jonah, we see a different kind of discomfort—the discomfort of a divine calling that challenges us to step beyond our prejudices and preferences. The reluctance of Jonah to go to Nineveh serves as a profound example of sitting with discomfort, facing our inner resistance, and the transformation that can arise from what initially feels like an unbearable situation. It reminds us that the discomfort we experience can be a divine tool, sharpening us for purposes we may not yet understand. In our modern world, where comfort is often a measure of success, the biblical narrative of Jonah invites us to embrace these uncomfortable spaces as places of potential growth and learning.

Jonah’s Discomfort and Our Own:

The book of Jonah opens with a clear command from God to go to Nineveh, yet Jonah runs the opposite direction (Jonah 1:1-3). His journey is not just physical but deeply emotional and spiritual—a confrontation with God’s expansive love that included even those whom Jonah deemed unworthy. Jonah’s internal struggle emphasizes our own unease when we face tasks that stretch us beyond our current capacities or challenge our deep-seated beliefs. Just as Christian thinkers like C.S. Lewis noted, God whispers to us in our joy but shouts in our pain; discomfort can be God’s megaphone to rouse us from complacency. Sometimes it takes a tempest or a time in the belly of a ‘whale’ for us to face what we’d rather not, but which is essential for our growth.


Embracing Discomfort:

Embracing discomfort doesn’t come naturally. Yet when Jonah is in the belly of the great fish, he turns to God in prayer (Jonah 2:1-9). Within this space, Jonah comes to accept, even if grudgingly, that his path lies through Nineveh. In finding the courage to embrace discomfort, we often discover a resilience we didn’t know we had. Psychologists like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi have studied the concept of ‘flow,’ a state of optimal experience where individuals are so engaged in challenging activities that they lose sense of time and self. Jonah’s experience, although extreme, shares this principle: deep engagement with our challenges can lead to personal breakthroughs and a sense of fulfillment beyond initial expectations.

Lisa’s Leap into Discomfort:

Let me tell you about Lisa, an acquaintance of mine, who felt an inexplicable unease in her well-curated life. It wasn’t until she volunteered at a local shelter, an environment far removed from her comfort zone, that she recognized the source of her discomfort. Within the walls of the shelter, Lisa was faced with stories and struggles that challenged her worldview. Much like Jonah, she initially resisted the inner call to serve in this capacity, but the experience became a catalyst for growth. She discovered a passion for social advocacy she never knew existed, reflecting Jonah’s eventual acceptance of his own mission to Nineveh. It’s in these moments of discomfort that we come face-to-face with parts of ourselves that might otherwise remain hidden, leading to transformative life decisions that realign our paths.

Scriptural Cross-References: Embracing the Wilderness:

Jonah’s story is not unique in its themes of discomfort and growth. The wilderness wanderings of the Israelites (Exodus 16) and Jesus’ testing in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11) serve as cross-references to the idea that discomfort can be formative. These narratives all converge on the concept that the difficult paths, the ‘wildernesses’ and ‘bellies of whales,’ are often the prelude to renewal and revelation. They strip away non-essentials, honing our focus on what truly sustains us—our relationship with God and our alignment with His purposes..


Discomfort as Catalyst:

These biblical examples underline the utility of discomfort as a catalyst for change. Research has shown that when we step out of our comfort zones, we are forced to adapt and grow. This is evident in studies on neuroplasticity, which indicate that learning new skills or engaging with unfamiliar environments can lead to new neural connections, enhancing cognitive flexibility. Such scientific insights complement the scriptural message that periods of discomfort can break new ground within us, fostering spiritual and intellectual expansion. Jonah’s reluctance followed by a transformative mission, the Israelites’ wilderness sojourn leading to the Promised Land, Jesus’ testing preceding His public ministry—all point to the purifying power of discomfort to usher in a higher calling.

Jonah’s Return:

When Jonah finally makes his way to Nineveh and delivers God’s message, we witness an entire city’s transformation (Jonah 3:10). But the story doesn’t end there; Jonah still wrestles with his expectation of justice versus God’s mercy. It’s a reminder that our discomfort can come full circle, beginning as resistance and ending as a challenge to our concept of divine fairness. Jonah’s return to the center of God’s will was a journey not just for Nineveh but for Jonah himself, teaching him—and us—about the breadth of God’s grace.

Conclusion: Navigating Discomfort:

Jonah’s tale offers a valuable lesson about the surprising destinations our discomfort may lead us to. Just as contemporary studies in psychology find that enduring and navigating discomfort can enhance our problem-solving abilities and emotional intelligence, Jonah’s discomfort pushed him to confront difficult truths, leading to his own moral and spiritual development. Sit with discomfort; engage with it—these are implicit exhortations of Jonah’s narrative. For in doing so, one might find, as Jonah and many others have, that it is the passage through discomfort that brings us to the shores of deeper understanding and unexpected purposes.


Where is your ‘Nineveh’? What are the discomforts nudging you toward change or challenging your perspectives? Reflecting on the Biblical examples and considering our personal ‘Jonah moments,’ we can start to navigate these waters, not with resistance, but with a curiosity that opens us to God’s leading. As we sit with our discomfort, we journey from the belly of constraint to the expanse of possibility, understanding, like Jonah, that the detours of our discomfort are often the very path God uses to bring us to the heart of His plans for us and others. We may find that our trepidation, tasked with a divine purpose, becomes our testimony—a story of transformation not just for our own hearts, but also for those whose lives we are called to touch.