Hard Seasons: Staying

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

abandoned ancient antique architecture
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If your situation isn’t ideal, if you have hopes and dreams for the future, if things aren’t bad but could be better, if you feel like life is mundane or boring or stagnant, then staying where you are can be really tough. It can feel like life has stalled and that time is being wasted. You may wonder when, or if, you will move forward again.

I knew this time last year that I couldn’t stay in the situation I was in. It was toxic and painful. But I also knew that I was stuck until at least after Christmas. I had to stay in Florida, where I really didn’t love living, at a job where I was facing poor treatment every single day, and we had to figure out a new place to live with new jobs. My husband and I started searching and we knew this would take time. Until something new happened, we had to stay put.

In this week’s scripture text the prophet Jeremiah speaks to the exiles in Babylon to deliver the hard truth that an early return back home was false hope. Instead, these displaced people would have to stay put for a while. God was sending a message for them to build homes, grow families, and plant gardens right where they were. The exiles had broken hearts from losing their homes; their situation was not a happy one. But God wanted them to keep living, to persevere, and to resist. Their lives weren’t over, God had a plan. But they had to stay in the foreign land for the time being and live their lives there.

round silver colored wall clock
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While my husband and I were waiting to leave Florida, we kept living while we were there. After returning from Christmas vacation, I knew January would bring changes. We had to leave as fast as we could. And things started moving quickly on a professional level. We had an exit plan. But we still had some time to wait before it all came to fruition. So January through March we traveled across the state to different cities on the weekends as a way to escape, but also take advantage of living in a state that was new to us. We couldn’t abandon our hobbies or sit around miserable while we were waiting. We had to stay, but we had to keep living.

If you’re in a hard season of staying where you are, waiting for something new or better to happen, keep living. Do things that nourish your soul. Don’t put your life on hold just because things aren’t ideal. Staying put doesn’t mean staying still. Go and live.

Hard Seasons: Lament

Around this time each year, people begin looking forward to Advent. We’re still in “ordinary time” on the liturgical calendar, and it’s loooong stretch between Pentecost and Advent with only a few special Sundays sprinkled in. Even though I am not preaching right now, I am also feeling the stretch of ordinary time and I wanted to do a blog series on some of these ordinary time lectionary texts. A theme in many of these scriptures is hard seasons. While we’re tired from the unseasonal heatwaves and longing for the hopeful anticipation of Advent I think that this series may be appropriate for the church calendar and for our personal lives. This week we will begin with lament.

Lamentations 1:1-6
How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter. Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe. From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.

 

In seminary, we talked about how churches have lost the art of lament. I have experienced this to be true. Worship is about offering ourselves to God, our full selves, and that means our grief and sorrows. Suffering together is a holy act. Weeping as one is sacred. However, I have noticed that there are far too many people who are quick to complain and rage when their weekly church service isn’t the serotonin hit they were hoping for.

It’s common to hear church members wanting to hear about peace and wanting to be made to feel good when they come to church. They want church to be their weekly escape from the world.

That’s not ever what church was meant to be. If the church is an escape from the world, instead of engaging in the suffering and injustice for the sake of love and peace, then it is not church. The early church was a community of oppressed believers sharing all that they had with one another who were lving their lives, the good and the bad, together. There will never truly be peace without facing suffering and injustice.

If church is an escape to make us feel good, then we’re worshiping ourselves and not God.

Sure, sermons about inner peace and spirituality have their place. God speaks peace to our troubled spirits through the scriptures, and those of us who are struggling and striving need some fresh air of good news. But everyone deserves good news, and that comes in many different forms. Good news can be that we do not suffer alone and that our church community is in the trenches with us.

If the world around us is suffering, then it is our spiritual responsibility to weep with those who weep, and strive for a better world or everyone. Trying to gloss over the issues of the world with platitudes and self-help talks doesn’t truly help anyone. If we dedicate ourselves to loving our neighbor, then their troubles are our troubles, and we lament with them. If we can have the compassion to lament with each other, then we can have the compassion to invest the time and money in the problems of the world.

This weekend I saw pastor and activist John Pavlovitz speak. He said, “I don’t have to share your lived experience to care about your lived experience.” This is what we are called to in the Christian life, and our worship to God should reflect that. Sometimes sermons make us feel good. Sometimes they challenge us. Regardless, sermons are meant to be a message from God to us. It’s about what we need, and what those around us need; not about what we want.

We can find feel-good experiences in many outlets out in the world: our hobbies, our rest, our play, our media, our books, our friends, and our family. But worship is giving to God. And part of our giving to God is lament, mourning, and weeping. If we cannot weep for ourselves and weep for others, we are not giving our all to God. Let us recover lament. Grieving as a community is healthy for our souls and opens our hearts to empathy.