For the purposes of this post, "exile" is wherever you find yourself that does not feel like home. This could be college in a new state, a move from the city to the suburbs (or the reverse), living in a foreign country or like me, living back in America (which "should" feel like home, but doesn't) after living abroad.
Christians love Jeremiah 29:11 about God knowing His plans for us--to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future. Sounds amazing. But have you ever noticed that this verse is nestled in an entire letter written to Judah, who was in exile?
Judah was sent away into exile, leaving their homes and their land to spend 70 years in Babylon.
Who sent them away? God did.
And I would venture to say that God has sent you as well. It may not feel like home and you may not even WANT it to feel like home. At least that's how I felt when I found myself living back in the states after five very fulfilling years of living in China. Chicago felt like exile to me.
But God had a message for his precious exiles on how to live in a place they didn't want to be. Here's what God told them:
Build houses and live in them (v. 5). Don't just rent, but take the time to build, and then actually LIVE there. When I first moved to Chicago after college, I had no idea I would live in the same apartment for four years, otherwise I would have painted those walls! When have you said, "If I had known I'd have been this place this long, I would have done X?" Build a house and actually live there. Paint the walls, buy house plants, decorate, make it your home, because you really never know if you are going to be somewhere one year or seven.
Plant gardens and eat their produce (v. 5). We are currently renting our house and I have found myself resisting putting down roots--literally and figuratively--until I know where we are "settled." But God wants me to live wherever I am living as if I were going to live there forever. I should plant that garden. Become a joiner in your community. Sign up for a weekly class or book club, join a volunteer organization, get involved at church. Commit to something that will force you to be a part of your community on a regular basis--no matter how long you plan to be there.
Take wives and become fathers of sons and daughters...multiply there and do not decrease (v. 6). Ask out the girl, my intrepid friend. Just do it. Ladies, be open to someone different than what you expect. Couples, don't wait until you are "ready to have kids"--that day will never come. Families, befriend your neighbors. And to myself--be open to friendships even if they seem temporary because perennials and annuals alike can be breathtaking. I think God is telling Judah (and us) that they do not need to be isolated, but to live in an ever-expanding community.
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile (v. 7). I'm sure Judah could have cared less about beautifying Babylon or contributing to the economy, but God commanded them to care. Daniel was exiled to Babylon at this time and wasn't plotting and scheming how he could get away, but was determined to prosper in that place and be a blessing to King Nebuchadnezzar. It is so easy to build walls around ourselves and live for ourselves or our family without a second thought about our city. What can you do right now to "seek the welfare" of your city? Join a committee? Attend a neighborhood meeting? Volunteer to do community service? Donate to a cause? Sometimes we need to first make a physical investment before we become emotionally invested in a place.
Pray to the Lord on its behalf (v. 7). We are to pray for our city. I confess that I seldom pray for mine. It can just seem like too large of an order to give to God. But I forget that prayer has so many side benefits and that in praying for a person or a place, I am the one who often changes. I grow in compassion and powers of observation. I start to care. I feel more rooted because I am invested in where I am on more than just a surface level.
It is after all of these commands, that we finally find our favorite verse, Jeremiah 29:11:
For I know the plans I have for you [for you to learn from this new experience]
Plans to prosper you and not to harm you [this is for your good]
Plans to give you a hope and a future. [this is not the end of your story]
God sent you where you are and wants to see you prosper in THAT place. You do not always control the where, but you can control your attitude toward that place.
Finally, this is not in Jeremiah, but has been a mantra of mine since moving back to the states that applies to these principles. Isaiah 37: 31 says that we are to "take root downward and bear fruit upward." How long we are allowed to grow those roots downward should have no bearing on our trying to put them down. That is God's concern. Our job is to be faithful to glorify Him wherever He has sent us and bear the fruit of the Spirit in that place for as long as God has us there.
May today there be peace within
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God...
Let this presence settle into your bones and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.
What is your "place of exile"? How can you put down roots in that place? Will you commit to praying for your city?
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This post is day 26 of the series "Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock," a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:
Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected...
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You're Not the Only One Who's Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My "Call"
Day 17: Is Missions a "Higher Calling"?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)--a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)
Photo: I, Danel solabarrieta [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
Linking up with The Grove at Velvet Ashes and Count My Blessings.
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Labels: 31 days (2015), Chicago, re-entry, reverse culture shock, Spiritual Lessons