For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.- Jeremiah 29:11
This is such a familiar verse, and it is often quoted.
In my church, it is tradition to throw a party for the High School graduates of the church. Their parents often make a posterboard collage of their lives, and there is cake. And every graduate gets a Bible from the Pastor with a verse transcribed in the front specifically for that graduate.
When I graduated in 2004, I received this treatment. This familiar verse, Jeremiah 29:11, was the one written in the front of the Bible for me. Now I don't know if Pastor was specifically led to write this particular verse in my Bible just for me, or if it was considered kind of a generic verse that suited the occasion, just as Psalm 23 seems to suit a funeral. Regardless of the reason that particular verse was chosen, ever since that day it has held particular meaning for me.
Sometimes I wish Pastor had chosen a different verse. Blessing someone with this verse seems akin to praying for patience. If you don't know what I mean by that, pray for patience sometime and you will see soon enough what I mean.
As such, this verse has a certain poignancy for me. If you have read many of my blogs, you know why. I have had to let go of a lot of dreams. The dream of living on my own in a city. The dream of getting a college education. The dream of having a career in education. The dream of travelling the country, and then the world. More recently, and much more heartbreaking than any of those, the dream of having multiple children. So to have this scripture niggling at the back of my mind brings on a certain painful anticipation.
My mom keeps telling me not to give up on these dreams. That God would not have given me such strong desires for them if He only meant to thwart them. Sometimes it hurts less to just let them go.
I am learning much. A few years ago I told God that I had had enough of being tossed to and fro by my emotions. That no matter what, no matter what pain, what doubts, what desert of not hearing from Him I went through, I choose the Living God. And it seems He has been testing (or is it strengthening?) that ever since. I am learning that I really do choose Him, no matter what, and what that means. I am learning the many facets that make up the "peace that passeth understanding." That one aspect is pain, another satisfaction, another endurance, and so on. I am learning to wait. And slowly, He is teaching me that another facet is to keep on hoping through the hurt. But to hope for His plan, not mine.
That is a hard one.
Throughout these years of this verse pricking me and teaching me much, I hadn't given much thought to the context of this verse. A few days ago, though, in my trek of reading through the Bible, it hit me what the people of God were going through when they were given these words.
God's people had been spending years in direct rebellion of the Lord by worshiping idols, even sacrificing their own children to these idols. As discipline to His people, God sent war, famine, and disease to wipe them out. But not completely. There was a remnant that He was going to preserve. However, He chose to save them in a way that seems roundabout- by having them captured by the Babylonians, carried off to Babylonia, and kept there for 70 years.
Jeremiah was speaking to those captured and living in Babylonia. To those confused and scared and thinking that they were exiled to Babylonia as punishment. When Jeremiah was telling them "For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope," he was telling the people who thought they were doomed and that it would never be a good thing to be taken from the land of the Covenant, that this was the plan of preservation. As backward as it seemed to those living it, as scary and foreign, God truly had good plans for them, far better than for those left in the homeland.
Last year my Uncle Mark was in a terrible car accident. He almost died a few times. He was in a coma for 3 months. He had over 20 bones broken, and had more than 4 surgeries for repair. He may still need more. Right now, he can only walk short distances with a walker, and he is largely confined to a wheelchair. He had the option to press charges against the woman in the other car, but decided not to. Now she has decided to press charges against him. In the meantime, his wife is seeking a divorce. It is clear that things are not going according to Mark's plans. He cannot completely take care of himself, and has been living with my mom and dad since he got out of the hospital in September.
This past Christmas, before I considered the context, I gave Mark this verse in a picture frame. I asked him to keep it where he would see it every day. He has.
I wonder if it is pricking him as it does me? Wondering how God could have a wonderful future in mind going through all the awful circumstances the Almighty is overseeing him go through? Yet, perhaps this is Mark's Babylon.
I look forward to exiting my captivity in Babylon, even as I know it may be the place that God has placed me for safe-keeping. In the mean time, I will "Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce...And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I [God] sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare." (Jeremiah 29:5&7, parenthesis mine.)