Journaling in Exile: Day 1
Jeremiah 29:1-14
Brittany Stillwell

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease…. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

-Jeremiah 29:4-6, 11

Well, I have officially been working from home for two weeks. On one hand, it feels like we just started this and on the other, it feels like we’ve been doing this forever. Has it really only been two weeks?! But also, where has the time gone?! They say this is just the beginning. They say we haven’t even gotten to the peak yet. They say we should settle in for the long haul. But like… how long? Can you tell me when this will be over so I can start planning for the future? I need to work on Youth Sunday and summer plans and… and… What if this is suddenly over and then I’m unprepared? I don’t like to be unprepared.

The way they are talking though…I’m not sure it is going to suddenly end. This feels long—Jeremiah long: build houses, plant gardens, find a spouse and have kids long. I’m starting to wonder if this is how the exiled in Babylon felt when they received Jeremiah’s letter and read his advice to settle in and do normal life things. Until recently I thought this was an encouraging message of hope. “Look—here’s home, enjoy.” But now I’m starting to wonder if this news initially felt like a huge blow. It’s one thing to be told to settle in and put down roots in a place you love, it’s another thing entirely to be told to get comfy in a place you were forced into, a place absent of routines and rhythms that provide comfort and a sense of security. I don’t want you to tell me I’m going to spend 70 years or even seven weeks in that kind of place. I don’t want you to tell me to get comfortable and to develop new rhythms. I want you to tell me not to worry, to do whatever I must to get by, this will all be over soon.

I was out walking in my neighborhood the other day, wrestling with the weight of it all, when I met an acquaintance on the road. We exchanged pleasantries (from six feet apart, of course) and as he passed by, he asked, “Well, are you making the most of it?” 

I think this is what Jeremiah is asking the people in exile and us, too: Are you making the most of it? This isn’t wasted time. We aren’t just getting by (though it’s ok if some days it feels like it). Build houses, plant gardens, work puzzles, call your family, write cards, watch something you’ve never had time for, sleep in, read a book, eat home-cooked meals as a family, play card games together, sit in silence before everyone wakes up. Settle in. Make the most of it. Chances are there are important lessons to be learned during this season of exile… I mean, quarantine. Maybe I don’t need to worry so much about plans for the future. Maybe, even in the midst of exile, and quarantine too, God has plans for us, plans for our welfare and not for harm, to give us a future with hope.

May it be so. Amen.

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