I used to travel between "being Jonah" and Jeremiah 29:11. Then one day when I could no longer run, I read beyond the second chapter of Jonah and realized either I was no longer Jonah and/or I didn't like the ambiguous ending (and honestly sitting out in the desert with no shade and pouting was not a good look for me). So naturally, I flipped back to Jeremiah.
("For I know the plans I have for you...plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." NIV) I'd held on to Jeremiah 29:11 through the years with hope and comfort - until it alone didn't make sense anymore. I thought the plans were to go to seminary. But when I finished that, when I got ordained, I still had the feeling I didn't know what the plan was and it was frustrating. What's more, I felt distance from God. Maybe I really was Jonah chapter four. I had been to Nineveh and I didn't like the answer. Now what?
A few summers ago, I went to a spiritual retreat. I can't remember the topic now but then it seemed like where I needed to be. On the second day, the presenter said she was adding a text to the programmed content. It was the text from Jeremiah 29. Seriously? I sat there wondering if this was meant for me.
We thoughtfully reflected on verses 4-14, the before and after of 29:11. What great insight for me. Over the years, I hadn't thought about my go-to Scripture as exilic. And yes, that was how I was feeling - like I was in exile. I was living in a place I had never lived, doing what I had never done. And now I was prompted to consider that maybe God had intentionally placed me there - left me there to carry on. I was supposed to thrive - to raise my daughter, to live faithfully in community and to contribute to its prosperity. I was able to see with a little more focus. My spiritual lens had gotten some tuning.
I decided I would share this contemplative quest with the speaker. It felt weird to approach this stranger with my revelation but it felt necessary. She assured me it was ok to share and listened intently. When I was done, she thanked me. Then she shared her side of the story. She had gone for a walk the day before. She had been feeling disconnected, like she wasn't sure if what she was presenting to us was really what we needed. Then she sat by the water and God told her to use Jeremiah 29:4-14. She didn't know why but she felt the urgency of it. So with tears welling up in her eyes, she told me about her struggles to be relevant and her desire for guidance and affirmation.
So within her story was my story. And God affirmed that we had both been heard. (verse 14)
I continue to do my best at thriving in this land of exile. It's never easy. It may never be easy. But I'm still hopeful about those plans.