A few years ago, I chose to leave my graduate program where I was studying Clinical Mental Health Counseling. At the time this decision felt agonizing, my own mental health suffered, panic attacks plagued me - it was an intensely hard period of my life. Yet, from that choice came the time to volunteer with a community of adults with intellection disabilities. This volunteer opportunity became a job, which led to a passion, and turned into my pursuit of a Master’s in Theology. I can now look back and see the good which came from the upheaval, but change can be intensely difficult.
In our readings today, we are given a variety of examples of change and repentance. Firstly Jonah, who has successfully made it to Nineveh, but whose story reminds us of what can happen when you fight God’s intended changes. Secondly, Nineveh itself whose people turn away from sin and are spared destruction; the reminder of the grace of God when we repent and alter our course. And lastly, the disciples who left their honest work and families to follow Christ, which points us to the change most difficult for me: from good to better.
Jonah struggled to warn Nineveh because that was a hard thing to do; we’ve all had struggles that we dreaded but knew where necessary. Nineveh was deep in sin, but they turned away from what they learned was wrong. Jonah reminded them to choose good over evil; a repentant step that we all need to take at times. But the disciples’ choice was more complex; staying with their families and keeping the fishing business running weren’t sinful pursuits. There was nothing wrong with their actions, but there were better things waiting.
I vividly recall a prayer which I repeated throughout my decision process to leave graduate school: “Lord, this school is not a bad thing. Why do I feel such a pull to leave? This program isn’t sinful, this career helps people!” I fought with God about leaving, against releasing a vital component of my identity and my plans for the future. The choice to switch from good to unknown was painful, but in retrospect I see the transition was truly good to best.
As we enter the new year, we tend to examine our choices all the closer. As we do so, consider the various changes God may ask you to make: the necessary but hard, the repentant, or the ever tricky but rewarding good to better.