We lived in Searcy, Arkansas for three years, and for most of the time, I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could. I’m from Texas, and a defining trademark of Texans is that they think their state is better than everyone else’s, and I was no exception. And if I’m being honest right now, I still believe that a little, but I’ve only lived in 3 states in my lifetime, so I’m not really a good judge of states.
Anyway, about 6 months before we moved from Arkansas back to Texas, I started feeling like Arkansas wasn’t so bad. We had made friends, learned where to go grocery shopping, helped friends move into and paint their houses, and established our lives there. I actually kind of liked Searcy. I didn’t want to leave a whole group of people we loved.
Then we moved to Austin, and while many things have been great about our move, there have also been some real challenges like finding affordable housing, maintaining friendships when we live in north Austin and our friends live in south Austin (45 minute drive!), and figuring out who we are in the midst of a vastly different setting. For the first year, I thought wistfully about our lives back in Arkansas. Why did we move again?
We chose to move to Austin, so we weren’t really banished or dragged here, but I found some camaraderie with the exiled Israelites. In some of our difficulties transitioning, I did feel like God had brought us here and then wished us luck on His way out. As some of our first friends moved away months after our first dinner together, we felt loneliness in our hearts though we lived, worked, and drove next to thousands of people each day.
This didn’t feel like home. Home was where we could navigate streets and call a friend for help and walk to church and take communion with a familiar face.
Slowly, over the past year, home has been settling in our hearts. But it hasn’t been an overnight transition. Instead, it’s been a grueling, sometimes seemingly barren journey in which we felt, at times, God had brought us here to abandon us.
A few months ago I was reading through Jeremiah and commiserated with the exiles:
“Thus says the Lord…to all the exiles…build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce…seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29: 4-5, 7
This is what God said to His people when they were in a place they didn’t want to be. He said build a home. Plant a garden. Those take time and they mean settling down. He encouraged them to pray for the welfare of where they were living.
“When 70 years are completed in Babylon…[I] will bring you back…For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you…”Jeremiah 29:10-14
Exile and displacement don’t mean abandonment and hopelessness. He told His people to carry on and build a life in exile. Waiting for life to return back to normal or to begin doesn’t have to be passive. Create things, build a life, carry on. Do these things in hope.
He promised to bring them back. His plans were not to forget and to forsake. His plans were of hope, of intimacy with His people. While I think verse 11 is often taken out of context and stamped on bracelets and bumper stickers too hastily, in the story of Israel’s countrylessness, we can look at it with hope. God asks us to put down roots and become part of our community in hope that He will fill us with life again. In hope that He will hear us. In hope that we will find Him in these things.
So build a house. Plant a garden. Settle down. Pray for the community you’re in. He has not abandoned you.