I have wanted to move for several years. Our little home, that seemed ample enough for our family when we had one child, now seems tight and confining. I have dreamed about a place where we could stretch out and breathe, host large dinners and have a permanent guest room for visitors. A home where there was outside space for growing kids to run and inside space to survive homeschooling through 6 months of winter.
We haven’t moved yet. We are still here.
The Israelites once found themselves living somewhere they did not want to be - Babylon. They had been captured and forcibly removed from Canaan, the promised land. God’s judgement had come to them and they were far from home - the people, the language, the religion, the customs were all foreign.
This was not where they were supposed to be.
In Jeremiah 29, we find them waiting for an answer from their prophet about how long they were to wait for God to send them back to Jerusalem. How long until they could go home? 3 months? 6 months? A year? Surely we would not have to live in Babylon more than a year!
God’s answer was devestating. It was going to be 70 years. And what were they to do for 70 years?
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give you daughters in marriage, so that they too may number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because it if propers, you too will prosper.... (Jeremiah 29:4-8)
I can just imagine their response, “I’m sorry, what was that? Jeremiah, you must have heard wrong. God wants us to what? To build houses? Here….in Babylon? He wants us to have kids here? He wants us to pray for this god forsaken, pagan city?”
God would have been completely justified in asking them to mourn for 70 years. Shaved heads, sackcloth, repentance, or fasting - the whole routine. He had warned the Israelites for 350 years of their disobedience. He had given them instructions about how to live but they had turned away from God. Time after time, generation after generation.
They had been offering diseased and crippled animals in their sacrifices. They had worshipped false idols - gods that demanded child sacrifice and temple prostitutions and all sorts of lewd and depraved practices. They had become slave owners and human traffickers, they had become oppressive and dishonest, they were ignoring the poor and widows. The charge God brought against them was serious. He could have asked them to fast for 70 years.
But he doesn’t.
He tells them to celebrate....in exile.
He tells them to choose to keep on living. He tells them how to avoid getting stuck.
Jeremiah’s word from God gives clear instructions of how to keep living in the season you are in and keep the Israelites from living in some imagined season ahead.
He tells them accept their discipline and to seek life while they wait because God is the God of the present and the God of life.
God had to tell them to do this because as humans, we are so proned to pining for the future as a way to deal with a difficult situation. We forget to live, right now, right here, even in the troublesome seasons of life. We wish away the challenges.
But living this way only brings discontentment and stress.
And while it seems absurd for me to compare my tiny trial of not being able to move to the exile of the Jewish people from the Promised Land, I can understand the trap of pining for the future, for another reality and not truly living in the present.
For the past year I had completely stopped putting any effort into the decoration or home-making of our home. I had stopped trying to finish getting things on the wall and fully moved in because I wanted to move. I would live here but I was not going to settle. I wanted a new house and different walls. I did not want to invest the time or money in a house that I was sure I wasn’t going to stay. I put it all on hold. I was existing but not truly living.
I was not enduring my challenge with grace. I was too busy waiting for the next home. The one with bigger windows and a view. The one with the larger yard so that my children had space to run. The one with the extra rooms and space on the main floor. That is where I wanted to be. That was my Promised Land.
I was living a thankless life. I was sure I was supposed to be somewhere else and I was just going to sit down and wait for it.
And that message, the message to seek out beauty and goodness where you are, is a timely word for me in my cramped feeling home. It is true for you as you wait for the future fulfillment of God’s promise to you, whatever that might look like.
What are you pining after and then putting life on hold because of it? What is in the future that you would rather just wait sit down and wait for? What is in the future that is causing you to forgo engaging with your present?
Maybe you are waiting for God to answer a prayer. Maybe you are wondering when your time of exile will be up. Maybe you are wishing you could move or be healed. Waiting for an answer or direction. Waiting for the green light to head back to the promised land.
What would it look like for you to plant a garden in this season? Throw a party to celebrate the good things that are rather than what might be? How can you sew some seeds or even just one seed in the place you live? How can you celebrate and prosper in your time of exile? How can you make good food off of foreign land? How could you pray and seek the welfare of your “city”? How can you make your current reality beautiful even while you wait for the more beautiful future?
How can you follow God and accept that he is watching over you, even here in this place? How can you drop wishful thinking and truly live?
When we allow aim to live rich lives and settle down in times of exile, we are submitting ourselves to the will of God. Do I think the Israelites still ached for their home? Yes. But there is something important in accepting his control over our lives and trusting that he is watching over us, even here, even in the desert. It is the only way to find peace.
What God knew about the Israelites was that if they wanted to endure this time in Babylon, they were going to have to keep on living. If they were to be ready to go back to the Promised Land, they needed to not let their souls shrivel up in exile. If they were going to be grateful for the gift of the promised land, they needed to be at peace in any circumstance. And the same is true for us.
Paul says that he has found the way to be content in all circumstances. And they secret? Jesus gave him strength to do all things. The wonderful news is that the same gracious and compassionate Jesus is ready and available to help you learn contentment, help you plant your gardens, and help you celebrate.
So what does this look like? It means that I will be trying to find pictures and art for the walls of this home and resist the urge to wait. I am asking God for creative ways to make the most of this little space so that we can thrive as a family. I am asking God to show me freedom and space in my soul rather than looking outwardly for this. I am trying to learn from God how to embrace the chance to live right here, right now, wherever God has me.
Maybe you would like to join me. Shall we plant a garden in Babylon?