But in this "exile," as I've been grappling with my anger and the point of all this and just trying to see God's face, I was encouraged yesterday and this morning by 2 things. The first is a key connection that a book helped me see. The second is a thought I had first thing this morning as I walked out to check on our chickens.
The Exiles of the Old Testament
I've been reading a book called "Wednesdays were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God" by Michael Kelley. It's about the author's own journey with his 2 year old son being diagnosed with Leukemia and the path thereafter. It's a very honest account from Mr. Kelley and it has started to help me wrestle with and process some of my internal world as so much of what he writes has resonated with me.
In chapter 9, he digs into the topic of hope. What do I really hope for during my child's cancer? For circumstances to get better? For heaven? Heaven is definitely something to look forward to and trust God for, but there's a problem with heaven:
The promise of heaven when we die doesn't mean this life won't be hard. So, seriously, what to hope for? What do we, with a child with cancer hope for in the meantime? In the weeks since Esther's cancer hit us like a hammer, we've realized that our lives will never be the same. There's no going back to before. If God brings Esther through this unscathed, we will still have that lingering fear of relapse, especially with her type of cancer. Even apart from that fear, we won't be the same as before for good or for bad. What will the normal Sam and I tend to hope for now even look like? When we will get there and be done with this exile? Well, Mr. Kelley brought me to 2 Kings 24:10-14, a situation that looked eerily familar:
You only go to heaven when you die.
In this passage, most of Jerusalem is exiled to Babylon by Nebudchadnezzar. The nation of Judah would not completely fall quite yet, but it's leaders and city dwellers were taken away. Daniel and his friends were likely a part of this group of people. Jeremiah was a prophet to Judah at this time.
At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to the city while his servants were besieging it, and Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself and his mother and his servants and his officials and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign and carried off all the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king's house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the LORD, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the LORD had foretold. He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land. (2 Kings 24:10-14)
The people were just yanked from their lives and set down in Babylon. What were they supposed to do? What were they supposed to hope in? Return? Would it be the same if and when they got back? Not likely. They had to see the writing on the wall as they left. Nebuchadnezzar was in control now. Their city was barely intact, the temple still standing but with no protection and the city was in chaos. For them, the question really wasn't why they were there or who's sin had put them there. The questions were: Where is our hope? What do we do now? God knew their struggle and their wrestling and had a word for them through Jeremiah in chapter 29:
"For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 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."
Read the whole passage. What does he promise? What does he tell them to do? He says I have good for you! I have plans for you! But he doesn't say necessarily what they wanted to hear...
God says the "meantime" is going to be awhile. He says to strap in. He doesn't give them a simple answer. He gives enough. Strap in and live in the meantime. Not in the past the way it used to be. Not in the future that you dread some days or look forward to unrealistically the next. Live in the now. I am with you. I have good for you. Right now. This was to be the exiles' hope. This needs to be my hope and my family's hope. Our situation is truly not that different than these exiles. They miss home. They probably forgot what the temple or their house looked like. We get discouraged because we forget what Esther looked like before she lost her hair. We miss what we had just 2 months ago.
Unfortunately, the rest of what he said wasn't quite as palatable. I wanted God's message to be something like this: "Hang in there; it's almost over. The meantime won't last long. I'm about to return everything you have lost, and pretty soon you can move into the future." But that's not what He said. God refused, both then and now, to give some pie-in-the sky version of hope that denies the pain of the present. He was real in His words. The word of the Lord reads something like this: "It's going to be seventy years of meantime, friends. It's going to be so long in the meantime that I advise you to get used to it. Settle down and make a life in the meantime. Build a house in the meantime because you are going to be there for a while. So strap in." (Wednesdays were Normal, pg 142)
My second reminder this morning (though I struggled to heed it today!)? To worry about today. Not the past, not tomorrow or 6 months from now or 5 years from now. Today. His grace is enough for today. He has more for me tomorrow. But he's only given me what I need for right now. His future grace will be there for days to come. But every morning is a choice to trust him just for today. Today is enough.
God is still busy in the meantime. He has not deserted us in the meantime. He is with us in the meantime. He is working in the meantime. Esther and our family are never far from his mind in the meantime. I pray we will trust that he has plans for us and a hope for us. I pray we will renew that trust every morning every day.
Hope is the confidence that even during the meantime God is still busy. (Wednesdays were Normal, pg 146)