In Jeremiah, the Israelites are taken into exile by Babylon. As the people grapple with what has just happened—being torn from their homes, the land given to them by God, their traditions and way of life—false prophets rise up to speak the words that they all long to hear: the exile will be short, the Lord will return them quickly to Jerusalem, their nightmare will surely come to an end quickly.
But Jeremiah hears a different word from the Lord, that Israel should plant gardens in Babylon, they should marry, build homes, and seek the good of their new city (29:4-14). The Lord tells Israel they will not return to Jerusalem any time soon; it’s time to get comfortable and find a way to make a new life in a new land.
Eugene Peterson is hands down my favorite author. I’ve been rereading Run With the Horses recently, a book on the life of Jeremiah, and Peterson says this,
“Exile (being where we don’t want to be with people we don’t want to be with) forces a decision: Will I focus my attention on what is wrong with the world and feel sorry for myself? Or will I focus my energies on how I can live at my best in this place I find myself?
All of us are given moments, days, months, years of exile. What will we do with them? Wish we were someplace else? Complain? Escape into fantasies? Drug ourselves into oblivion? Or build and plant and marry and seek the shalom of the place we inhabit and the people we are with? Exile reveals what really matters and frees us to pursue what really matters, which is to seek the Lord with all our hearts” (150, 154).
Where do you find yourself in exile today? Perhaps it’s at home raising little children, wishing you were starting the career you have put on hold. Maybe it’s in a job that feels oppressive, exhausting, and unfulfilling. Is it your marriage? Filled with tension, unspoken words, or disappointment? Exile is part of human life. And as Peterson challenges us, we are the ones who decide how we will live in our exile.
Several years ago when I was suffering from the weight of trauma in a particular season, I was driving in my car down a familiar road, weary, exhausted from a rather sleepless night, and wondering, when is this going to end, change, feel different? The Lord met me in that moment of exile and reminded me that His joy supersedes our experience. I had to decide how I was going to move through what would be a very long season. I could curl up in exile just hoping it would pass, or I could learn how to plant a garden in Babylon.
As Peterson said, this is the choice we make in exile. Nothing happens outside of our Good Father’s hand and the exiles he allows us to endure can be the place of life springing forth from death, of new relationships forged in fire, of a home built from scratch. The Lord allows us to experience exile so that he can meet us in it. Today, lift your head to the one who allows us to be refined by fire so that we may burn with passion for our Savior.