Hope That Helps Us Stay Present
How To Break Up with Your Anxious Life
Meeting the Need to Be Present, Part Two
This is not a dig on former President Trump. But there’s analogy I just cannot resist for today’s mediation. In the midst of a pandemic, which caused economic, relational and psychological trauma, it was really tempting to believe a leader when he said, “Don’t worry. The virus is going to go away.”
Wherever you landed in all the different camps there were to land in over the last few years, I think we can all agree that this coronavirus thing is lasting longer than any of us hoped -- and many predicted. Had I known how long we were going to be dealing with it, I would have stopped holding my breath for a return to normal, remodeled my home office a bit sooner, and been more proactive in finding new ways to stay in touch with friends. We all developed various degrees of anxiety – whether for our personal futures or that of the nation and world. Maybe we even developed deep soul anxiety about the goodness of God, wondering if He was still with us. It was just so hard to stay present.
So, I love the incredible grace given to the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 29, who told them, “Listen, you’re going to be in exile for 70 years. Settle down and dig in.” Israel would rather have believed the prophet Hananiah, who promised them rescue from Babylon within two years. But God didn’t want them wasting their time on wishful thinking, so he sent word through Jeremiah: “Don’t listen to the dreams you elicit from them, for they are prophesying falsely to you in my name.” (Emphasis mine.)
In the last few years, most of us went and found a news source or other leader that could tell us something close to what we wanted to hear. It’s in our nature to love the quick fix from the promise of total healing from pain, to a fast way to weight-loss, to conflict-free relationships.
But God’s word to exiled people – to all people -- is based in reality, not wishful thinking. Reality is one of the things we need in order to live in the present, to solve problems, and to live authentically. We will live through difficult seasons not matter who we are, and minimizing is foolish, not spiritual. And our hope in these seasons is the presence and character of God, not the promise of better things around the corner.
This is why the way Jeremiah 29:11 has become like a catch-phrase for the Prosperity Gospel drives me batty, ensuring people that their hope lies in God’s promise to prosper them, with no word about the 70 years of exile that comes before that promise will be fulfilled. It’s always dangerous to claim a personal promise, out of context from a passage written to the entire nation of Israel.
Here's we, as modern, anxious Christians, can apply Jeremiah’s prophecy: We can learn about the character of God, and how it sustains us in times of exile, keeping us rooted and fruitful in the present. Here are some things to cling to.
1. God doesn’t kick us out of our promised lands, he carries us. The word carry is used three times in Jeremiah 29. Imagine a mother carrying her child to the timeout mat, kissing her on the head, handing her a blanket, and then moving quietly to another part of the house, where she can still hear her child cry. Even if we are living through difficult times that we caused for ourselves (as the Israelites were – their exile was a punishment for unfaithfulness), God is still with us.
2. God doesn’t intend harm. The book Boundaries taught me about hurt verses harm. Our exiles may cause us pain, but God doesn’t want them to harm us. They are tools of learning, not tools of shame. Here’s where Jeremiah 29:11 can shine a bright light in our lives. Yes, you may be in exile, but God’s long-term plan is to be good to you. A good mother puts a child in time-out, not to cause her enormous pain, but to separate her from a behavior that will ultimately harm her if she keeps it up.
3. God doesn’t need perfect soil to grow fruit. God’s promises to prosper us are less about wealth and success, and more about growing the fruit of the spirit in our hearts and good works in our lives. God tells the Israelites to get married and plant fields even in this impermanent place, and that tells me that I don’t need everything I think I need to live out my purpose! I can serve God and be satisfied now.
4. God doesn’t waste time. I’ve lived through a lot of seasons in which I couldn’t do all that I felt I should be doing. During my kids’ early childhoods, I felt like many of my gifts were being squashed – I couldn’t write or teach professionally, because I could barely think! In reality, I was sowing seeds deep into my kids’ lives, growing in my own character, and learning lessons that I pass on now to other moms. During the pandemic, an exile if ever there was one for an event speaker, I enjoyed one of my most fruitful seasons of mothering, becoming very close to my daughters and addressing some long-standing issues in our family because I had time to focus on them. Likewise, seasons for you that feel like in-between places or even exiles will be used by God. That’s a promise.
5. God always offers hope, not just to you as an individual, but also to bless those in your life. Jeremiah told the people to pray for the prosperity of the cities they would live in, so everyone would prosper. And boy, did they. As a result of the Babylonian exile, a young man named Daniel was able to witness to King Nebuchadnezzar. He and his friends were thrown into a fiery furnace, and yet didn’t burn. The king was so amazed, that taught his whole kingdom to worship the God of Israel. Israel’s exile blessed a whole nation. Likewise, God will bless you with purpose at all times, but it is never just about you.
Some questions to consider this week, as you allow God to meet your need to be present:
1. Can I trust that God wants to be with me, even when He is offering me correction, even when I don’t feel that I’m living my best life?
2. Do I believe that God can correct me, make me wait, or allow me to experience difficulties, and yet He still intends me no harm? How can I find the good lessons in my present circumstances, without having to call those circumstances good?
3. What fruit can God grow in this current soil? What character qualities are being developed in you?
4. How often do you feel that you have to hustle? What deadlines do you feel you have missed? Invite God to give you peace that waiting time is not wasted time.
5. Who can you show love to in the places you’d rather not be: the cancer treatment center, the divorce care group, while you look for a new job? How can you use your gifts even if circumstances are limiting you?