Not in a Fish

Posted on April 4, 2011 by


I don’t usually shop for books. This may be due to the fact that, unlike my father’s father with his 30’000 books in Kansas City, I have yet to read all the books on my shelves. Adding one more seems simply wasteful. Similarly, I am not one to wander through stores simply admiring things, much less books whose dust jackets are written by cleverly vague advertisers hoping to snag the genre specific velcro pad in your brain.  As Dave Berry once described, I am a tactical-strike shopper: in, acquire objective, get out.

So perhaps it unusual that I found myself hunting online for a specific book I wanted to send to a young writer friend. I actually wanted two copies as I intended to send one to our own Gentleman Adventurer as well.  The book was one I owned and which I had unsuccessfully searched for in stores. It was apparently out of print and in very short supply. At long last I found a single copy from a used bookstore in Illinois. Like the rare manuscript hunter I was, I struck.  This was my moment.  Also, it was cheap.

The second book however was not to be. When at long last I uncovered a second copy, it was no less than $200.  I was stunned. The book hadn’t struck me as being anything special.  It had normal binding and a normal dust-jacket.  It was by an author whose complete works can be found in an unpirated, free, digital form online. It wasn’t even that old, having been published in 2006.

That night I went home and pulled the thick book off the shelf and flipped through it once again. Somehow, this time, it was like gold.  The pages were stained and the cover corners were blunted, but I felt a little richer just holding it. This was rare and precious. As I ran my hand along the worn page ends, I had to wonder, how many other things in my life are like that book. How many things sitting on the dusty shelves of my life have unexpected value?

All throughout the book of Psalms, David or his contemporaries extohl the mercies of God and how good it is to praise Him.  It is a sign of a righteous man. It is something we ask God to teach us and something we are meant to do all day long. Except, I don’t.  Hardly ever.  When I asked myself why, the simple answer came back:  I don’t feel like it.

And why don’t I feel like it?  Because, like a spoiled child, it’s not going my way. My world is so narrow that happy only happens when all my little yellow ducks are bobbing in a nice row facing the same direction and floating in water no cooler than one hundred and fifteen degrees Farenheight. Somehow though, even if all the boxes were checked, I doubt I’d praise God. I’d be annoyed that the ducks weren’t the right shade of yellow.  Or that the bathtub wasn’t big enough for two.  Or something.  It’s human nature and it’s broken.

A few months ago, I was reading the Book of Jonah on a flight back from Texas.  I’d been inspired to do so by the two bald headed gentlemen behind me who were discussing the book loud enough to be heard through my ear buds. They seemed incredulous at best, but it felt like God was tapping me on the shoulder.

But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD. – Jonah 2:9

Here Jonah is fairly bad off. In fact I am pretty sure he gets to walk away with the “Worst Day of the Year” prize for BC whatever it was.  He is inside a large fish.  There’s probably just enough air to breath, and if it’s not freezing cold, it’s probably hotter than a Russian steambath. Not unlike said steambath there are probably all kinds of horrible hairless things floating around in there with him. Small suckery things and largish squishy things and things so horrifying he’s glad it’s unbelievably dark. And what is he praying on this really terrible day?

You’ll note he’s not banging on the squishy walls and screaming. “GET ME THE @#$% OUT OF HERE!”  In fact if you read all of the chapter, he sounds almost content.  God is in charge and salvation is of the Lord. At this point he doesn’t know if he’s gonna be dissolved in giant fish gut juice but he wants to make a sacrifice of thanksgiving anyway.  Life is good, apparently. He’s got stuff to thank God for.

So here’s me.  I’m not in a fish.  In fact I’m pretty comfortably in a sweater and khakis.  I’ve got a car with wheels and a job and yes, it’s raining, but I’m dry. I have way more reason to thank God than I can possibly imagine.  If Jonah can praise God, so can I. Like the book, almost everything I have is more valuable than I’ve given it credit for. My life, my world, is precious and thank worthy.

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