Jeremiah 29:11 And Being Where We Don’t Want To Be

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Jeremiah 29:11-13

Rightly or wrongly, Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most quoted scriptures of the 21st Century. Bible scholars will look down their noses at those of us who use Jeremiah 29:11 out of context and don’t understand all of the political and historical background surrounding Judah and the loss of its best and brightest in the Exile to Babylon. But what makes verses like Jeremiah 29:11 and its wonderful follow-up 12 and 13 so profound is that I don’t have to know the context in order to gain truth and inspiration from it in a variety of ways.

As I have studied this passage and the entire chapter, what I realized is that those in exile were in a place they did not want to be – physically and spiritually. They thought they couldn’t experience God where they were because, in their minds, God could only be found in the Temple in Jerusalem. They were told by a few false prophets that they would be leaving soon, and they took a “what do we care” approach to their existence in Babylon. Why should they even try to make a living or contribute to society in this God-forsaken place if they would be soon exiting? Jeremiah, delivering God’s message, tells them otherwise. In the lead up to our passage, they were told to get married, plant crops, be good citizens, and try to prosper, even pray for the city they have been forced to.  God is asking them to trust him because he knows the plans, and they are good. He is asking them to seek him, even 800 miles from home because they will find him even there.[1]

My wife, Leah, was not in the country when my father died on July 8. She was in Zambia, Africa on a mission trip. She was in a place she wanted to be but not at that moment in time. In our fractured conversations over the phone, she asked me, “What do you want me to do?” She was hurting and emotional and wanting to help, but I didn’t want her traveling 7,000 miles by herself and my Dad wouldn’t have wanted that either. I told her, echoing the words of Jeremiah 29, to do what she was called to do: to serve the kids in the orphanage where they were staying, to share Christ’s love to the Zambian ladies they were on retreat with, and to boldly deliver the gospel message of Jesus. I believed and tried to express to her that we have to be faithful to our calling and to trust that a faithful God has the plans in place that would prosper what she was doing while allowing her to find God in the midst of such disconnect and distance from the one’s she loved.

On the night my Dad died, after a session led by my wife, 22 ladies gave their lives to Jesus. God was moving because Leah decided to prosper where she was planted and live up to the calling that brought her to Africa. She had every right to check out, to take an emotional break, to say everything was too much, but that was not why she was sent to Africa and that would not have been what my Dad would have wanted. She, in the midst of pain and uncertainty, sought God and found him in Zambia.

I was also in a place I didn’t want to be.. Who wants to watch their father die? But as my mom, sister, and I held hands and prayed over my deceased father, we had the assurance of all of the great promises of scripture, including Jeremiah 29:11-13. Even in our pain, we knew we had hope, and we knew we had a future. And as we sought God, he listened to us and came to us.

As verse 14 states, “I will be found by you, declares the Lord.” Are we willing to be found by God no matter what situation, good or bad, we find ourselves in?

[1] Peterson, Eugene. Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best. Downers Grove, Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 2008.

My Tools For Overcoming Grief (Part Two)

In the last post, I discussed a few items that have helped me as I work through my grief in the loss of my father. Today, I mention three more that have been instrumental in restoring some sense of balance and stability in a challenging time.

Fasting –

Scot McKnight, in his excellent book on Fasting, makes the case that the Biblical point of fasting is to have an intentional spiritual response to a sacred moment. I thought of this as I was trying to think of ways to work through my grief.

The death of my father was a sad sacred moment that I needed to fully acknowledge and commemorate through my actions. So, I marked out a couple of days on my calendar, told my wife what I was doing, and went for it. It was kind of a forced way of remembering my dad.

So many times we choose to try to forget or even hope that we wouldn’t think about our loved one so much. I chose to make every hunger craving or pain an invitation to think about my Dad, his life, his legacy, and our times together. To thank God for him and to seek out God’s comfort in my sad reality.

fasting

There are many things I could say about these two days but they are hard to express. The main result was a balancing of my physical, spiritual, and emotional states. My physical side needed to be more tied to my spiritual rather than my emotional side – more faith and less bitterness, more trust and less anger, and more outward focus and less self focus. My spiritual side needed to go deeper and further rather than staying on the surface where my emotional side could take over. And my emotional side needed to find the healthy emotions such as love, hope, peace, and joy and not dwell on anger, bitterness, and envy.  My time of fasting helped bring more balance to these states.

Talking –

There are some people who will tell you everything they possibly can about a situation they find themselves in, whether you asked them about it or not. I am not one of those people. I assume most people don’t want to hear it so I don’t bother; they would rather talk about themselves than listen to me. But, in the face of life and death, I couldn’t play my usual, “I’m okay,” game. It would have been an obvious lie.

So when people ask me how I am doing regarding my Dad’s death, I try to express more of what is truly going on. I will speak about how difficult it has been, the things I have learned, the challenges of the particular moment, and what has been hard moving forward. A few friends from work have asked me for lunch and I have taken the opportunity to elaborate on the challenges of the summer and how I am trying to move forward. Though I do not like talking about myself for long stretches, it has been rewarding to be open and honest about what I am going through and sense the legitimate concern and kind words of a friend.

Dancing – 

In the last post, I mentioned how the Psalms have been helpful to me in dealing with my grief. Psalm 30 includes a line that reads, “You turned my wailing into dancing.” I don’t know what kind of dancing the Psalmist was thinking of when he wrote that but my kind of dancing included Kool and the Gang.

I had bought a CD of Kool and the Gang’s Greatest Hits for one of our daughters who enjoys a little funk in her music selection. One day as I was returning from work, a little beat down from the day and my circumstances, I hear that my daughter is playing the CD in the living room. Instead of dragging all of my stuff to my room and trying to decompress on my own, something moved me to dance to the music. It was spontaneous, fun, goofy, and a great relief. It was also a sign that I don’t have to be ensnared by sadness forever, that God is providing moments of joy and fun and that it is okay to let loose every now and then.

 

My Tools For Overcoming Grief (Part One)

In the weeks since my dad’s death, I have tried to do a spiritual check in on myself and recognized that I am struggling. I am out of balance. I am stretched thin and lack a lot of stamina when it comes to spiritual things. I am barely able to provide emotional awareness to my family and I tend to turn in on myself instead of look outward for much needed companionship and support.

I am grieving, I know, and I am not just being hard on myself or trying to rush the grieving process. But, if there is something that I can do now to keep myself from sinking too far into despair or bitterness, I need to try it. If there is something that would be beneficial to me, even in the midst of a dark time, there is no reason to wait. Despite the hurt and difficulty, God wants to help and desires that I seek out means to allow his grace to come crashing through like a tidal wave.

So, I would like to share with you the tools I have used to help me get through my grief. If you are struggling with anything, perhaps some of these tools might be beneficial to you as well.

The Psalms –

Two Psalms in particular have risen to the surface of my awareness. In one of those times when particular passages get mentioned in multiple venues and contexts, I figured I needed to pay attention to Psalm 30 and Psalm 77. In Psalm 30, there are lines like, “weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning;” and “you turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth, and clothed me with joy.”

Psalm 77 begins with…

When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
    at night I stretched out untiring hands,
    and I would not be comforted.

but later says …

I will consider all your works
    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

Eugene Peterson says that all prayer ends in praise. Many Psalms were reminders that I can’t just remain in my sadness and despair. There is a time and will be a time when I need to consider all of the Lord’s work and begin to turn my tears into joy. The Psalms can guide me through that.

Music –

I have always been encouraged, convicted, and inspired by music. I look back on dry periods in my spiritual life and can recognize that there was a consistent lack of music.

For several weeks, I was having to drive three hours back and forth from my home to where my parents live. That gave me many hours to listen to music and to find comfort and peace there. I found myself gravitating towards the texture of the music rather than the content of the lyrics. I needed sounds that were comforting and uplifting in a sad sort of way. I know, a very specific formula. I found it in a collection of 6 songs by Andrew Bird. Many of his songs, and the way he uses instruments, just wash over you and then carry you away to a reflective place. I was in a reflective mood and needed to tap into this side of me.

 

Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard –

Throughout this summer, I have been reading this classic by my hero, Dallas Willard. I have read it several times since 2002, the year it came out, but this time was different and it was incredibly comforting and motivational.

dallas-cropped-and-small

If you haven’t read it, Willard describes the vision and the means for having Christ transform all of the parts of the self including our thoughts, emotions, will, and social dimension. With each description and process for transforming a certain part of myself, it was easy for me to evaluate what progress I have made in 15 years. Then you throw in being in the arena of struggle, pain, service, and loss, and it is like a Minor League player stepping up into the big leagues.  There was no denying my progress and also where I needed to improve. I saw areas where God has done some amazing things in my spiritual growth but I also saw some areas where I have neglected to do my part and little growth had risen to the surface. I was comforted and convicted at the same time. That is a great place to be in your spiritual life.

Next time: Three more tools for overcoming grief.