Updated: Sep 6, 2022
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7 NIV)
On a weekend trip to Lake Wenatchee, my family made ourselves a home in campsite #23 at the state park. We set up two tents, six sleeping pads and six sleeping bags. We strung a clothesline between two Ponderosa pines, put a cover over the picnic table, filled a jug with water, and built a fire in the firepit. Then we heated mac and cheese and veggies over the fire and roasted marshmallows for s’mores. As the sun set, we visited the camp bathroom, put all the food in the car (this is Bear Country!) and enjoyed the last embers of the fire before turning in for the night to the lullaby of an unceasing northern wind.
We chose this home at Lake Wenatchee, and took steps to build a life, albeit a temporary one. But some homes come to us more or less unchosen, like the city of Babylon, where the Israelites were exiled around 600 BC. Jeremiah was sent to give them the above word of guidance from God. Babylon was a foreign place in the midst of enemies. How were they to make a home there?
The first step was to know the time. Time to fight tooth and nail to get out of the unchosen home? Or time to settle in? God, speaking through Jeremiah, goes so far as to say, “I have carried you” into exile. God’s hand was in it. Although Nebuchadnezzar was an enemy, God intended to do good to His people during their exile. It was time to settle in.
Along with setting up housekeeping and building families, God gives a counter-intuitive instruction: seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it. This would have been anathema to most of the people and leaders. But the logic is that if the land you are exiled in prospers, you will prosper too.
This logic holds for me and my family. I’m working with my dad to settle into a new life of exile in a skilled nursing home. He doesn’t have the option to return to his former independent life. We’re considering how to create a weekly schedule and build in the things that are most important to him. I’m covering his scanty walls with beloved pictures and even his old champion tennis racket. We go for drives and get chai lattes. And we read Scripture together frequently. Psalm 37 is a favorite.
Trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell in the land and find safe pasture. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do it. (Psalm 37:3,5 NIV)
God did, in a sense, carry my parents into their exile of elderhood by giving them long lives. Trusting in the God they have a habit of trusting is still good policy. There is still good they can do in how they relate to their family and how they relate to the nursing home staff and residents. Several aides have stopped to tell me how my mom expresses affection for them, and sometimes urges them to go home because they’ve worked a long time.
A medical establishment, like a nursing home, is very much like a city. Good management is crucial and difficult. It makes sense to pray for the peace and prosperity of the operation as a whole. My parents’ health and well-being also depend on the health and well-being of each staff member. The RNs and therapists, NACs and kitchen staff all have lives. Some struggle to make ends meet, some are applying for further training, many are raising kids. Their lives are just as valuable to God as mine, and their well-being is reflected in their work of taking care of my parents. It makes sense to pray for them, and seek their good.
As my dad trusts his God and settles into this new life, he will find “safe pasture.” He’s not “out to pasture” in the sense of someone whose usefulness is over. He’s still led by the Shepherd, and will find those green pastures of love, life, fruitfulness and purpose here, too.