Metaphorically there are many different kinds of exile or places where you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, lost, alone, confused, sad, angry, terrified. Some that we named in worship yesterday include: retirement, job loss, moving, divorce, death, broken relationships, illness, having kids, empty nest syndrome, and a new job. In fact, we find ourselves in exile over and over again in our lives.
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In the scripture reading from yesterday (Jer. 29:1, 4-7), the prophet Jeremiah is writing to the people in exile in Babylon to tell them that, essentially, “God says, move on.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I wonder how they felt about that message. Maybe some were happy to finally be given the go-ahead to build, plant, get married and take part in their new city. But I bet others were angry and frustrated. I bet others didn’t want to be told to get on with their lives. They hadn’t asked to be in a new place, had been aching to go home and now they had to give up on those dreams. Maybe they were still deep in the throes of grief and moving on would seem like dishonoring the memory of those they’d lost or left behind.
We’re not so different, really. We may struggle through our different exiles for a long time, dealing with the emotions, fears and loss of a new place. But eventually we need to allow ourselves to live again. Bob Deits, in Life After Loss, says,
Some losses will change the course of your life… It is up to you whether you let them destroy you or help you grow into a stronger, better person. No one can make you grow through loss, but nothing can keep you from growth either… You have been in the depths. You have faced the worst experiences in your life. You have endured more emotional pain longer than you dreamed you could. Now you are beginning to look at the possibilities of a new life. You didn’t ask for a new life. You didn’t want it. But now that it’s here, you will make the most of it. It seems to offer its own joys.
Sometimes a new normal is easy to live into and sometimes we go kicking and screaming. Still we need to go. There are always more possibilities and potentials ahead of us than we are aware. Slowly we set our feet on the path forward, building a new life, planting roots in the soil under our feet, letting our wounds heal, loving the new people who come into our lives and seeking peace where we are. While in our hearts we hold the loves of our past, the lessons of our mistakes, and the wisdom gained through difficulty.