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Growth Begins with Acceptance

​Growth Begins with Acceptance

What if the story of Jonah and the whale isn't about a guy and a big fish at all? What if it's a story about ​how growth begins with acceptance?

Then Jonah prayed to his God from the belly of the fish. He prayed: “In trouble, deep trouble, I prayed to God. He answered me. From the belly of the grave I cried, ‘Help!’ You heard my cry. You threw me into ocean’s depths, into a watery grave, With ocean waves, ocean breakers crashing over me. I said, ‘I’ve been thrown away, thrown out, out of your sight. I’ll never again lay eyes on your Holy Temple.’ Ocean gripped me by the throat. The ancient Abyss grabbed me and held tight. My head was all tangled in seaweed at the bottom of the sea where the mountains take root. I was as far down as a body can go, and the gates were slamming shut behind me forever— Yet you pulled me up from that grave alive, O God, my God! When my life was slipping away, I remembered God, And my prayer got through to you, made it all the way to your Holy Temple.
- from Jonah 2, The Message

What would have happened if Jonah refused to accept his circumstances?

What if he just tried to “manifest” himself right out of that whale’s belly? “Hey dude - you’re surrounded by fish guts and it’s awfully dark in here. Pretty sure this isn’t the Ritz Carlton. Jonah had to accept his circumstances, tell the truth, and ask for help. Once Jonah was willing to admit the end of himself, he found the beginning of God. You want to talk about “miracles”? If they ever happen, I think it’s always when we’ve come to the end of ourselves, admit our interdependence on God, and are willing to say, “Okay, I can’t do this on my own.”

Growth begins with acceptance.

Do you know the story of Elijah and the broom tree​? 

Elijah, exhausted, lays down by this tree, and begs God, “Just let me die!” I love this story, because it shows the spirituality of snacking and naps. For the next few days, God sent angels to feed Elijah and then he went right back to sleep. But before he could HEAL, he first had to tell the truth about his current circumstances. I’M SO TIRED I JUST WANT TO DIE! (This sounds a lot like my Kindergartener every day after school.)

Growth begins with acceptance.

Or how about Jesus and the Woman at the Well?

The longest recorded conversation in Scripture is between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jesus - you know the fully God and fully man guy? He was in his “fully human” element here - hot and sweaty in the Middle Eastern sun - so he stopped at the well of a strange woman to ask for a glass of water.

Jesus had to acknowledge his own physical thirst that day at the well. And when Jesus was willing to ask for help, another miracle happened - the woman at the well was able to admit her own need. “You’ve been married 5 times and the man you’re with right now isn’t your husband,” Jesus said - as Jesus accepted his own need, he invited this woman to embrace her own vulnerability. Radical self-acceptance is CONTAGIOUS.

Growth begins with acceptance.

Jesus Took Naps

​Jesus echoes​ the story of Elijah and the broom tree in Matthew 8:24 as he crawls down into the bottom of a boat and takes a nap. An unexpected storms comes up, the disciples are freaking out, but Jesus is sleeping like a baby. I love this story because Jesus took a back row seat to the action. Rather than snapping his cosmic fingers, he took a nap and the disciples got to have the first interaction with the storm. They didn’t handle it great - they freaked out. MASTER! JESUS! HELLLLLP!!!! And again - at the end of their abilities, God stepped in and a miracle happened.

Growth begins with acceptance.

​So what happens when you’ve done all the right things and life still falls apart?

Look back at Job in the belly of the whale - let’s read it together: 

From the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed to God.
In deep trouble, God answered me.

From the belly of the grave I cried, ‘Help!’

In his time of greatest need, Jonah simply says, HELP!!!!

Skip down a few verses -

My head was all tangled in seaweed
    at the bottom of the sea where the mountains take root.
I was as far down as a body can go,
    and the gates were slamming shut behind me forever—
When my life was slipping away,
    I remembered God.

What's Your Jonah Experience?

​Isn’t that how it goes, so often? Whether your God looks like an old white dude with a beard who lives on a throne in the sky - or your God exists as you, as us, within each of us - no matter your theology about God - isn’t it interesting how we all have that Jonah experience sometimes - we’ve tried it on our own - done everything a person can do - and when our life is slipping away - we go - oh yea - God. Maybe I should invite God into this mess. HELP!!!!!!

​Growth begins with acceptance.

A couple of verses later - it says, God spoke to the fish and it vomited Jonah up on dry land.

It all started with accepting where he was in life, and asking for “help.” 

But acceptance doesn't mean agreement.

Go with me here. 

I’m in the belly of a whale.


(But I AM in the belly of a whale.) You see - I think that’s the difference - we accept it, but we don’t have to agree with it.

I accept that the doctor has given me a diagnosis - but I don’t AGREE with it. 

I accept the number on the scale, even when it's higher than I want. But I don't AGREE with it, so I start eating better and I walk an hour each morning.

I accept that the doctor is telling me I have cancer, but I don't AGREE with it, so I take chemo, I change my diet, and I rest.  

Accepting it means - ok, this is what I'm experiencing right now, but because I don't want my diagnosis or my prognosis to become my IDENTITY, I don't agree with it.

I accept that the state of American politics looks like a FREAK SHOW right now, but because I don't AGREE with what this means for my children and grandchildren, I don't AGREE with it. 

So I vote. I protest. I March. I do it all with love as the motivator. But just because I accept the facts, doesn't mean I have to agree with it or own it as a permanent destination. 

I accept the fact that I have anxiety, depression, and PTSD - my brain isn't wired quite like everyone else's, but because I don't AGREE with that permanent destination, I take my meds, I go to therapy, and I practice regular self-care.

There’s a big difference in acceptance and agreement.

The Belly of the ​Hospital Whale

I’ll never forget being pushed down the hall from ICU. We loaded the elevator and the nurse pressed “B” for basement (or maybe it was “belly”). When the doors of the elevator opened, right in front of me was the grey plastic sign that said PSYCH WARD with an arrow pointing to the left.

As the large metal doors slammed shut behind me, I prayed the most honest prayer I’ve ever prayed, “God, if you’re there, I could really use some help right now.”

I couldn’t manifest myself out of that hospital. I just needed God to sit with me in the belly of this whale. I wanted to be healed. I was desperate for a miracle. But for me, the miracle came through medicine, therapy, and God being present with me through doctors, nurses, and counselors who deeply cared about me.

Much like Elijah, I was fed for a few days, I slept a lot, and I was given tools for the next step of the journey. 

I have been to hell and back. It smells like rotting fish. It’s unstable. It’s dark and cold and damp. And scary as hell. 

And I am convinced that accepting where you are, while simultaneously reaching out for help - to God, trusted friends, professionals - or some combination of the three - is the only way through it. 

​-from Unity of Birmingham, October 20, 2019

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By Steve Austin

Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.