By Phoebe Farag Mikhail
Read to the end to learn how to access the free craft printable, to use with all of your loved ones as a reminder of God’s unconditional love!
Today we begin the month of February, marked by hearts, flowers, chocolates, and other external expressions of love for one another. This year, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria also celebrates the Passover of Jonah, which in 2018 also falls on this day. The Passover of Jonah is a feast celebrated about one week before Lent begins. It is preceded by three days of fasting and prayer, commemorating the city of Ninevah’s fast of repentance, and also the three days and nights that the prophet Jonah spent in the belly of the big fish after he tried to run away from God. The church recognizes these three days as a “type” or foreshadowing of the three days Christ would spend in the tomb before His resurrection from the dead.
The story of the reluctant prophet Jonah, while brief, speaks volumes about God’s character, and speaks most loudly to me about God’s mercy and love that overrides our own prejudices and judgements. The whole story can be found in the four short chapters in the Bible that make up the book of Jonah, but here is a quick summary:
God tells his prophet to go to Nineveh (an ancient city located in what is now in modern-day Iraq) and preach that they would be destroyed because of their wickedness. Jonah refuses and takes a boat in the opposite direction so that he would not have to preach to these people, whom he clearly hates. God of course will have none of this, and sends a storm that would not calm until the sailors fearfully and reluctantly throw Jonah overboard at his request. Jonah then gets swallowed by a big fish that spits him up on the shore after three days. God tells him again to go to Nineveh, and this time he obeys. When he arrives at Nineveh and warns them of their impending doom, the Ninevites repent, and their king calls a fast, saying, “Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” (Jonah 3:9, NKJV). The godless Ninevites seemed to be more in touch with the character of God than His own prophet.
Jonah, however, knew God’s mercy as well as he knew his own prejudices. Jonah clearly did not want the Ninevites to repent; he wanted them to burn like Sodom and Gomorrah while he watched from afar in satisfaction. He knew that if they did repent, God would spare them.
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm (4:1-2).
Basically, Jonah threw a temper tantrum, saying to God, “I told You! You were not going to destroy these people. I knew it! You are too gracious and merciful. Even this wickedness You are slow to get angry about. Instead, You are full of love.” Jonah hated the Ninevites, but God loved them, and God clearly saw that his prophet, whom He also loved, was going to be effective in his preaching, leading the Ninevites to repent rather than ignore him. And that was all God wanted: to spare them and shower them with His love instead. God’s love is all-encompassing. It will forget any past sins. It does not discriminate between nation and people, race or tribe.
This beautiful reminder sets the tone for these first two weeks of February. Over the past few weeks, ideas for how to involve our children in Valentine’s day celebrations have been circulating on social media, and a very popular one is for parents to cut out heart shapes and write messages of love to their children. My friend Caroline Guirguis shared another idea with my church’s mom group that took this one step further–use those hearts to share messages of God’s love, which greatly surpasses even a parent’s love for a child. Here is the event and the teachable moment that inspired it, in her words:
My daughter goes to kindergarten at a public school and the conversation about God has come up a lot with her peers … She has a good friend that has recently told her “K, God is mad at you!” In an attempt to get K to let her in front of her in line. So K answers her and says “Oh yeah!? But He still loves me!”
She came home wanting to know if what the girl said was true, and sharing with me how it all went down and I reassured her that she said/did the right thing in that situation. I thank God for the opportunity to have these conversations with her and for her little heart and for the spirit that reminds them of the truth when it is needed.
With that experience and with Valentine’s day approaching, I came across the Valentine’s Day activity with children a couple of years ago. This year I’ve found myself telling my little/big girl that I love her no matter what, even if I’m upset at her or if she’s made a bad decision. This made me rethink how I want to do this this year, so I’ve decided to use it as an opportunity to talk to her about God’s love; everyday instead of writing something about her that I love, I will focus on a characteristic of God’s unfailing, unconditional love for us.
When I was in high school I remember my priest telling us God is our first love and the love of our youth. This is definitely something I want my girls focusing on as they grow since romantic young love is constantly focused on now, even in Kindergarten!
Inspired by Caroline’s idea, we’ve created a free printable that you can download and use right away to implement this idea, or make changes to it to add more messages to your loved ones about God’s love. I enjoyed creating this printable so much because it reminded me of how much God loves me, too. I cannot wait to share it with my children!
To download the printable, enter your name and email address here to subscribe to the Being in Community email newsletter, and you will then get access to the link to download. Have a wonderful two weeks celebrating God’s love!