Day #14: Engagement

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.
-Jeremiah 29:7

 Sometimes hopefulness fails. Sometimes persistence fails. In this verse, all the doom Jeremiah prophesied has come true: Jerusalem is crushed. The nation of Judah no longer exists. As he sits down to write a letter to his old neighbors, now deported to Babylon—neighbors like the teenaged Daniel, who is being trained into assimilation—Jeremiah pens these words. He assures the exiles it is okay to work for the good of the city where they find themselves, even if that city is a hellhole of heathens. It is worth it to make it a better place, even if you’re not convinced the place is redeemable. Stay engaged, Jeremiah writes. Just because hopelessness and displacement and corruption have won the day, we don’t get to tune out and go numb. But, Jeremiah warns, engagement is not the same as assimilation into the oppressor’s culture. Seek the peace of the city where you are: seeking the peace often means nonconforming, improvising, hospitality. “Build houses,” Jeremiah urges them, “plant gardens. Become resilient.” Carve out small, countercultural places for flourishing communities, even if it seems like the most grueling task in the world.

Takeaway: Do one thing to strengthen the community where you find yourself today, whether you are at home or traveling. Is there a city council meeting tonight? Go. Even if you don’t have an agenda. Build a Little Free Library. Visit the Little Free Library down the block. Go to the closest park. Walk there. Take a plastic bag and go picking up trash around the neighborhood. Do something that keeps you engaged in the welfare of those around you.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

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Day #5: Persistence

If you have raced with people
and are worn out,
how will you compete with horses?
If you are at ease only when in a peaceful land,
how will you survive in the forest
along the Jordan?
-Jeremiah 12:5

Imagine receiving an invitation to a party that says, “This is not your type of party. In fact, you’ll be miserable. But you will gain so much. You will learn so much about yourself, you will make close friends who ease the frustration, and you will stick to your principles.” Resilience is about knowing when to accept the invitation to adversity—not to go out seeking adversity for the sake of being noble, or self-righteous, or the perfect student of suffering. But to understand when adversity is part of the process of becoming. Jeremiah (the one who bought the field on Day #1) knew this. He committed his life to advocating for justice and the prosperity of his homeland and, when that failed, to teaching his city resilience. It’s exhausting work. Early on, Jeremiah complained of fatigue–the above verse is God’s response. It’s irritating advice. But it’s irritating because someone—in this case the Architect of the Universe—has more confidence in you than you do in yourself. Someone else believes, in the words of folk songwriter Carrie Newcomer, “You can do this hard thing.” Sometimes the only way through is through. Sometimes it’s worth it to compete against the horses, even if you lose, because you will gain something greater: Love. Integrity. Resilience.

Takeaway: What adversity are you avoiding? Maybe it’s a difficult conversation with a friend, a restructuring of your budget, a confrontation with a coworker. Whatever it is, today write yourself an invitation to adversity. Take 10 minutes and begin, “Dear [Self], You are invited to….” Remember, the ultimate invitation is to persistence—you are invited to this season of challenge because it will strengthen you and your community, because it is necessary work, because you are hopeful and worthy and present for the challenge ahead.

 

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of reflections on resilience during Lent. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).

Lent Day #1: Hopefulness

So I bought the field in Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver…

-Jeremiah 32:9

What’s hopeful about buying a field, unless you’re a high-liquidity buyer in an urban market c. 2010?   The prophet Jeremiah purchases a field while he is (1) in prison (2) in a city under siege by the army of a foreign superpower. Even if seventeen shekels is a steal (the exchange rate is unclear) it’s not a good look. But it’s a symbol of hope. Jeremiah commitment to live in a state of hope, to live as though impossible goodness is coming. Hope offers a sense of vision to see beyond the present unendurable events. Jeremiah buys a field because “houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” Even though his nation-state is about to collapse, he insists upon the eventuality of restoration. He insists on resilience in the face of becoming a resident of a new and hostile country.

 Takeaway: Commit an act of hope today: invest in something you will not see to fruition. Plant (literal) seeds. Give lavishly to someone who may not be responsible with your gift. Do something that takes the long, long view. But whatever you do, trust in its eventual reality. Jeremiah committed to the hope while he was in a prison in an imprisoned city. What would it look like for you to hope that fiercely?

Gathering the Stones is providing 40 days of Lent reflections on resilience. Check back for new reflections every day (except Sundays).