Faith Thoughts are sent in by Dr Elisabeth Leembruggen from Holy Trinity Utrecht
“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” (Jeremiah 29:11)
We live in a land of expats. Most expats have chosen to “remove themselves from their homelands” as the OED puts it. The expat life is largely a life of choice—for love of that special person, for a job with its unique challenges; for those holiday get-a-ways to exotic lands. There’s a chance to learn a new language, the opportunity to meet new ‘natives’, befriend other internationals, explore another culture and approach to life; to expand our horizons. To be sure, somethings are lost, but often there is great gain. Not all expats are happy with the choice. The ‘dangling spouse’—with no right to work in the local culture—awaits the return home. Expat children resent shifting about to yet another unknown school, in another unknown culture, with another unknown language. Cultural adjustment and culture shock is no minor matter. Homesickness and feeling bereft of family becomes a burden too difficult to bear. Depression sets in.
We live in a land of exiles. Expatriation— from which the term Expat comes—also describes one who has been expelled from one’s native land (OED). To be exiled—unless self-imposed—is most often not by choice; it has been foisted on one, with all the deprivations associated with such an act: The loss of loved ones and family ties; the loss of culture and traditions. We lose a vital connection to the earth & soil which gave us life. To be exiled from the land of our birth means the life we’ve known and loved is gone. It can and often is devastating.
Leaving, without forced expulsion, can be the hardest choice of all. We see no future in the land of our birth, we have no hope. Life, as we’ve once known it, will never be the same again. We make the hardest choice of all—to leave what we’ve always known and loved. Jeremiah (29 ff) understood this dilemma. Jerusalem was in shambles. Homes were devastated and destroyed. The Hebrew children were taken captive. Only a remnant remained. And now they were being forcibly removed and carried away. They grieve and mourn their loss. Yet God had a plan. He told his children to settle, marry, and have families. In God’s time, things would be set right again. Jeremiah is instructed to tell the Exiles: “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” (29: 11).
This is a message for every age, a message for us today as we grapple with the stress & strains of life choices and plans. Foisted or not, our future often feels uncertain. We question ourselves:
Did I make right decisions? What is the way forward?
What will happen to me? What is my future?
Has God heard my prayer?
We all ask these life questions, no matter our culture, social standing, age or circumstances.In the stress of living and decision making, God speaks words of comfort to Jeremiah which echo down millennia to us; encouraging us to trust for “I know the plans I have for you”. Does this mean we throw up our hands and “let go and let God”? This is one approach. But studies in religious and spiritual coping indicate that this is the least satisfying method, producing the least productive results. A second method is the “do it yourself” approach, without prayer, making our decisions without spiritual considerations. This may give us a temporary sense of control, but also proves to be the less satisfying. The third method is called the collaborative approach. In this approach, we work together—in collaboration—with God.
And as one might surmise, this is the most satisfying approach, producing the greatest sense of well-being, the greatest satisfaction and spiritual insight**. As we plan together with God to discern His will and path for our lives, we have a wonderful promise. He knows the plans He has for us, local national, expat or exile.
*Oxford English Dictionary, 1988.
**Kenneth I. Pargament, The psychology of religion and coping: Theory, research, practice, 1997.