“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 peace and prosperity in 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
The Jewish people were captured and exiled to Babylonia under King Nebuchadnezzar. They experienced profound loss: loved ones, homes, their beloved city of Jerusalem, language and culture, and the ability to practice their religion at the temple. In their new country, they were hesitant to do anything permanent, hoping their captivity would be of short duration. But the prophet Jeremiah penned the above words from “the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel” instructing them to put down roots. But wouldn’t God rescue them as He had promised? Yes, he would. But not yet. Not for seventy years.
This passage struck me recently as I saw in the Jewish exiles glimpses of my own hesitancy to put down roots during this strange pandemic time. Of course in the beginning we were told we were just going to “flatten the curve” for a couple of weeks and so while there was some disappointment over cancelled plans, it also felt a bit like a vacation with little responsibility and a lot of extra time. We baked bread. We played board games. We slept in.
Five months have since passed and for the most part it feels like I’ve been treading water, uninspired, biding my time. We don’t go out often because of the hassle of masks and social-distancing with a large family. I have been undisciplined with my time because I keep expecting an external schedule to be forced back on me and help me with time management. We haven’t joined with other families for home church because we have been waiting for “real” church to start back up. I clung tenaciously to the idea that my kids would be returning to school in the fall. That would get us back to normal! I didn’t want to build a house and settle down here. I wanted my old life back.
In Jeremiah 29:7 God instructed, “Seek peace and prosperity in the city to which I have called you into exile.” God was responsible for the exile yet still wanted His people to prosper and be a blessing to the pagan nation they were residing in. They were not to be idle, but to go about their ordinary human lives, experiencing the comfort of homes and security of growing their own food, finding joy in wedding celebrations and new births. They were not just to survive, but to thrive. God’s blessings would still find them in Babylonia.
With one late-summer, governor’s press conference my hope of normal life dissolved – schools would not be opening. I knew in my heart that, though it was not at all what I had planned or wanted, the best option for our family was for me to homeschool my kids this year. This decision was me committing to a COVID-related change for at least the whole school year. And that is when I realized it was time to plant my garden.
In God’s sovereignty, He has me here in this strange moment in time, and I don’t need to know the end game (though I do trust it won’t be seventy years like the Israelites faced) to choose to not only plant my garden, but to tend it, and reap a harvest of blessing from His open hand. For me, that means settling into homeschool my kids this year, opening my home for families to worship together, and looking at the very empty months on the remaining 2020 calendar and not despairing for what isn’t there, but rather asking God how He would have our family fill the days.
The passage in Jeremiah goes on in verse 11 to offer this encouragement to the Israelites. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Though this message was intended for specific people in a specific time and place, it reveals the heart of our good and gracious God. Even in difficult circumstances, even when we are hurting and experiencing loss, even when our hopes and plans are thwarted, He is working all things for the good of those who love Him. The future that appears so murky to us is not unknown to Him. And He has blessings to pour out on us right where we are at.
I’ve heard it said that to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. But I think it’s more true that to plant a garden is to believe in the God who holds tomorrow in His hands.
Kara is the wife of 20+ years to Caleb and the mother of 5, including 2 through the miracle of adoption. She and her family live on 8 acres, raising cows, goats, chickens, and turkeys, as well as a large garden. She is passionate about hospitality, mothering, the intersection of farm-life and faith, and finding beauty in the commonplace. She enjoys her classics bookclub, walking her country road, and traveling with her large family. She occasionally blogs at goodgiftsfarm.com, but you can keep up with her more regularly on Instagram @good_gifts_farm.