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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

In the Bag

“But Jonah ran away from the Lord ...” (Jonah 1:3 NIV)

In my role as the preschool Bible Story Lady at church one Sunday, I told the story of Jonah and the big fish to the four-year-olds.

The hard part wasn’t bringing the bit about Jonah deliberately running away from God down to the level of little people who still get their fannies smacked when they run away from adults. No. They got that all right. 

The hard part was how to tell it so they’d understand that some grown-ups are silly enough to think they can hide from an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God.  

So I asked how many of the children like to play hide-and-seek. Every hand went up.

“Have you ever picked a really bad hiding place like this one?” I put my hands over my eyes and said, “Okay. I’m hidden. I can’t see you so you can’t see me either, right?”

The kids laughed hysterically.

“Or how about this one?” I tried to squeeze my adult body behind an itty-bitty kiddie chair. “Can you see me now?”

They howled. 

“Or maybe you’ve been here.” I returned to center stage, carefully unfolded a paper bag, plopped it over my head, and reached out with both hands – searching, groping, becoming a smidge tearful as I fell to my knees. 

“Did you leave me?” I asked in faux panic. “I’m all alone in this cold, dark, horrible place. I’m so scared! Won’t someone help me?”

No laughter this time. Something had resonated with those little people.

I hadn’t expected this. Silence, so thick you could cut it with a meat cleaver. I wasn’t sure what to do next.

The kids apparently identified with my aloneness, with Jonah in his disobedience. With all humankind when we choose to dig a hole of disrespect to our Creator then lie in it, isolated … frightened … confused. 

Suddenly a little voice piped up, warm and heavy with empathy. “It’s okay, Miss Debbie. We’re still here. Don’t be afraid. You’re not alone.”

And then I heard footsteps mounting the stage and felt a tiny hand take mine. Then dozens of small hands found me, surrounding me with comfort. 

There I was, kneeling on a stage with a brown paper bag over my head and a huge lump in my throat, swarmed by a horde of uninhibited children who understood what it felt like to be alone and afraid – and didn’t want it to happen to me. 

I was incredibly moved. 

Running from God is something we silly grown-ups do, isn’t it? We actually think that secret sin of ours is secret and an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God somehow doesn’t know about our hidden shame.

So we isolate that part of ourselves and try to hide it in a cold, dark spiritual place that reeks like the innards of a gutted fish. We feel alone. And scared. Because our heavenly Father isn’t there. 

But He is. He is. Like Jonah, we only have to call out to be heard.

“Then Jonah prayed to his God from the belly of the fish.” (Jonah 2:1 MSG)

Then Papa God’s warm, comforting hands will reach out from the darkness, enveloping us in forgiveness, redemption, second chances … hope. 

That flash of blindness with the preschoolers truly opened my eyes. It was one of those rare teachable moments that knocks your well-ordered world off its axis and cracks open the door for a glimpse into a higher realm.

Maybe I should carry a head-bag around with me all the time. 

“Now let your unfailing love comfort me, just as you promised me, your servant. Surround me with your tender mercies so I may live, for your instructions are my delight.” Psalm 119:76-77 NLT

Copyright © 2020 Debora M. Coty, used with permission.

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