How many of us memorized Jeremiah 29:11 as youth? I did! I think I had it written on my softball glove. I could read it out in the field and make myself think that God had it in mind to make me a great athlete. I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord (YES), plans to prosper you (YES, catch that fly ball, make that home run), plans for a hope and a future (European Championships here we come!). It wasn't until I went to College and I experienced my own little exile that I began to grasp the context of the events and the people who inspired that promise.
For me it happened in my Senior year when I spent my last semester living with my Dad because his house was close to the homeless shelter where I would serve my practicum. I was living far from my college friends in a place I had never lived and in a situation that was tumultuous. I was lonely and weary. In suffering God showed me the context of my favourite verse.
Jeremiah 29 is a letter written to broken hearted people who were forced into exile. It is not a pep talk letter to a happy folk who just need a cheerleader on the side lines telling them that God loves them and keep on keeping on. It is a letter written to people who were at once the kings, princes, craftsmen, and prophets of Judah. They were God's chosen people and among that people they were the cream of the crop. They were the ones with the influence, the prestige, the money. They had everything they could want, once, until they became captives in a strange land to people who served a pagan God. They wanted to go home. They couldn't. Imagine the heartache of being sent into exile, the brutality of being taken from your home, the only place you ever knew, to make the long desert walk to a foreign land. The humility, the desperation, the brokenness.
I can relate to staring at walls. I can relate to being so broken and hurting that all I can muster is the strength to stare. The strength to turn on the television to think about any thing else than what has broken my heart. I can feel traces of the pain of utter disappointment in God. I felt the pain of exile as a college student. I have felt it many times since.
Jeremiah sends his letter to the exiles and his words to them sound nothing at all like pity. He tells them:
|These are the children of the lepers in the leper colony. We stood on a rooftop and sang songs of praise. There was joy because even in hard times, God is good.|
|I bought several table clothes and a purse made by the leper colony residence.|
From the exiles in Babylon to the lepers in the colony I visited in India we see the same calling to live abundantly. God is enough. Life is in Him. Live fully. Be grateful for life.