Dang, I Can’t Control the Weather

When God Sends a Heatwave, There’s Nothing We Can Do

Ali Holcomb / 8.11.21

Oh, summer. It’s the season of barbecues and front porch sitting, everyone floods the great outdoors to soak in the sun. People exercise more and smile more, finally enjoying the warmth withheld from them by winter. It’s the season everyone looks forward to the most. “Summertime and the livin’ is easy” seems to be on everyone’s minds. The whole world is rejoicing for this long awaited season.

Except, for me. If I might embrace my grouchy curmudgeon side I have to admit I really don’t enjoy the heat. At all. I run warm, in both temperament and temperature. For temperature, I get overheated quickly, I’m far more tolerant of the cold than the heat; icy temperatures that cause most people to hide indoors I shrug off and am happy to run in.  I love the cold, winter is my favorite season, but I’m naturally a pretty warm person. It’s not rare for me to look around and see people have goosebumps and I’m not in the least bit cold. 

As for temperament, I have a quick temper. My reflex emotion is anger. It just seems easier to deal with than other emotions, it feels more powerful and somehow I feel more in control of it (a lie, but a comforting one nonetheless). It doesn’t take much to fire me up, for good or for bad (I blame my red hair). But having this temper means I need something to cool me off. The bite of winter’s chill is extremely soothing to my fiery soul.

It wasn’t until my move to D.C. that I began to even think about the heat of summer. I grew up in Colorado where it’s almost never humid and it cools off in the mornings and evenings, even in July and August. It was hot, but never felt unbearable. I also worked at a camp in Minnesota, and though it was far more humid, it still was reasonably tepid both mornings and evenings (and sometimes downright cold). So even with the humidity I made it through summers in Minnesota without AC, sleeping in a hammock, tent, or cabin. It wasn’t always pleasant, but I could survive. 

I never knew what humidity was until I moved to D.C. The first time my weather app told me it was 102 but felt like 108 I just felt angry. As the temperature rises so does my frustration about everything. In the summer heat, everyone else is having their best life now, but not me. I’m a pretty smiley runner, but on summer runs I’m just grimacing and annoyed. Normal tasks like grocery shopping suddenly seem unbearable to me.

I remember an early moment in D.C. walking around the streets in excessive heat. It was crowded, I wasn’t sure what bus to take to get home, and I was sweaty and hungry and angry at the inconvenience of everything. And then I bought an ice cream cone, the creamy, cold treat calmed me down a bit. Ice cream cone in hand I walked to the Georgetown waterfront, watching the boats on the water. A breeze came off the water, I smiled. The temperature hadn’t changed but my mood had. A simple ice cream cone made the world feel idyllic. 

I’ve started to call these moments my “Jonah moments,” moments of anger and frustration at a situation outside of my control. Jonah is a pretty angry character in the Bible, and I really relate. After a series of chaotic events Jonah preaches repentance to a people he tried to avoid. And to his greater annoyance the people actually repent, and God spares them. And here is where I truly feel Jonah. He perches himself so he can watch the destruction of his enemies and it’s hot, unbearably hot. And the Lord gives him shade through a plant and we are told “ Jonah was very happy about the plant.” Me too, Jonah. Nothing makes me happier than walking into an air conditioned building after a stifling walk to work.  But the Lord takes away the plant and Jonah responds in anger. This interaction is one that makes me laugh while simultaneously reminds me of conversations I’ve had with God. 

 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight.  And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

The toddler-like tantrum. “I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” How many times have I felt injustice at things that were given to me and then taken away. Or that the temperature is a few degrees above my comfort level. But what am I actually angry about? Is it the high temperature, the sweat? Am I just dehydrated? Why am I so angry? 

Well, because in the sweltering heat I am shown the worst version of myself. I am hot and sticky, my own quick temper is self-evident, and I am reminded I am not God. Everything is out of my control, including my anger. My body can’t run a quick pace amidst the dog days of summer. I want the coolness of fall where I feel more control. My body must drink more water, but I really don’t enjoy drinking water (I know, it’s crazy). I just don’t like being reminded I’m not in control, to be oppressed by something I cannot escape. None of us do.

But like Jonah’s annoyance at the plant and the heat, there’s usually something else beyond thermostat that’s fueling the rage.  We learn he’s more deeply annoyed that he doesn’t get the final say on the people of Nineveh. Why should they be saved while he must suffer in the heat? Even when he does preach to them he doesn’t do it with a mind to earnestly save them, and yet God uses him for their salvation, even with him kicking and screaming the whole time. God can still save and work through us even amidst a bad attitude, though it’s so much more pleasant for us when aren’t fighting him tooth and nail along the way. 

God’s forgiveness and grace usurps Jonah’s desire for human justice. God tries to give Jonah a gentle reminder of his own sovereign control through the plant. “Jonah, I am all powerful, the plants and the heat are mine to summon and wither, and so are the people of Nineveh mine to save.” The Bible never gives us  a denouement to see if Jonah’s heart softens towards Nineveh. Perhaps he just finds another tree to dodge the sun. But by the end I know I’d rather not be dragging my feet against God’s grace. I’d rather be someone who seeks out ice cream on a hot, sticky day (cheesiest thing I’ve probably typed), on the lookout for small mercies, grateful for them as they appear. The heat isn’t ours to control, but to bear. And so I submit to the sticky temperatures and make the best out of what I’ve been given, maybe even with contentment regardless of the circumstances. God gives blessing amidst the heat, a plant and shade for Jonah and air conditioning for me. All is his to give and take away. He even gives oppressive heat to soften a hardened heart.

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