“A knot in the pit of the stomach,” or “feel it in the bowels,” are common phrases. They refer to a sense of anxiety deep down in us. The images are clear as well: the pit is a hole, bowels are guts. But in the case of Jonah, the anxiety was more than figuratively in the belly. He was literally in a pit of the stomach, as he had been swallowed by a great fish.
He was paying the consequence of disobedience in a rather extreme way. He ran away from God’s mission for him, and was subsequently thrown off a ship into the sea, where the fish swallowed him.
This should have logically been the end of the story. But Jonah from the belly of despair (and the fish’s literal belly) called out.
“From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me, seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit (Jonah 2: 1-6).”
In the total despair of being cut off from freedom, and even light, and air, he cried out. How often are we like that? We get ourselves into a situation, and then we remember God. But there is a sincerity in the prayer. He shows a trust in God to hear him, and a confidence in being brought up from “the pit.” His seems to be a real faith rather than hedging his bets. Yes, he is desperate and there really is no other option, but it is not phrased as a “If you help me God, then I will X, Y, or Z.” It is “I am lost God, I trust you!”
When we are in the belly or pit of despair, let us remember the example. Avoid “magical thinking,” or deal making with God. Simple surrender, and trust Him.