Living In Exile: Babylon & Chronic Fatigue

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(This is a sermon I preached on Sunday, October 9, 2016, at The United Church of Los Alamos, based on the lectionary text, Jeremiah 29:1,4-7)

 

If you were to look at my calendar from a little over three years ago,

you would see lots of things–

With kids in 2nd, 4th, and 6th grades at the time,

there’d be assorted school activities and programs,

As well as ongoing volunteer commitments;

there’d be gymnastics practices, piano lessons,

Bible study, exercise classes,

coffee and lunch dates with friends,

and the occasional dentist and doctor’s appointments;

Any remaining empty spaces would be filled

with occasional church meetings,

additional social outings,

phone calls to faraway friends and relatives,

walks with our dog,

and of course, the more routine home duties

of laundry, grocery shopping, cooking,

and some very light and very occasional cleaning!  

 

From 6:30 in the morning until 11:30 at night,

my days were chock full of people, activity, and noise!

If you were to look at my calendar from a little less than three years ago

to right up until today…

you wouldn’t see as much.

 

On September 22, 2013, I got hit pretty hard

By what seemed to be some sort of virus–

I was so nauseous I almost wondered if I was pregnant again(!),

I had a bad headache,

and I was really, really tired.

Somehow I made it through that day, spent that evening asleep on the couch,

getting up around 10 PM…so that I could go collapse into bed!…

…and that’s where I spent most of the rest of that week.

Hardly even sitting up,

Even more rarely getting up.

 

As you can imagine, this state of being–

Or more accurately, not being!–

Was, for me, completely unheard of prior to that time!

Mommy sick?  Hardly ever!

Mommy down for the count for days??  Unimaginable!

 

So what to do??

 

Chris took a few days off from work to take care of the kids (and me!),

Friends from church began to bring us meals,

And I called my mom,

Who arrived from upstate NY the following Monday

To help out for that next week.

And my sister came the week after that…

And Chris’s mom came the week after that!

Full-time, live-in care for three full weeks!

 

By this time, thankfully, the nausea and the headaches had gone their merry way,

But the overwhelming tiredness, the complete lack of energy, had not.

This fatigue, I used to like to say, lingered like an unwelcome house guest.

…and yes, it lingers on, though to a lesser degree….

But at that point, at least, I was no longer staying in bed all day every day–

In fact, by then, a month or so in, I was spending most of my days out of bed…

…on the living room couch!

But back to my calendar–

Needless to say, it got pretty empty pretty quickly!

I didn’t go anywhere for quite a while,

other than to various doctor’s appointments

In an unsuccessful attempt to figure out what was going on.

I stopped volunteering, cold turkey,

Both at school and at church;

I no longer had the energy to exercise;

There was no way I could go out for coffee or lunch,

As any type of social interaction quickly drained me

of what little energy I had;

And I relied on my husband and/or friends to get the kids to and from their various activities,

As well as to do even the simplest tasks at home–

I have a vivid memory of one friend sweeping my kitchen floor

while I sat on the couch and watched,

and another folding our laundry while I sat right next to her

at the kitchen table!

 

Not only could I not do anything for others,

as I had prided myself on my whole life up to that point,

But suddenly I had to rely on others to do for me

In ways I never could have imagined.

 

It was a way of being that was

Utterly unexpected,

completely foreign,

And most of the time,

For a while at least,

pretty darn unacceptable!

 

Now, I’m going to take a little bit of liberty this morning and suggest…

…that my experience with fatigue has been

in some ways, perhaps,

something like the Jews’ experience

when they were sent into exile–

–although, presumably, they at least had some warning!  

In fact, most of the book of Jeremiah prior to our reading today

–in other words, more than 25 chapters!–

is devoted to God, speaking through Jeremiah, issuing those warnings!

Threatening to punish them

for their sinful, stubborn, and evil ways–

If they didn’t “straighten up and fly right,”

As my father used to say.

 

The forewarning bit notwithstanding, though, it seems to me

that there are some noteworthy parallels

between the Jews’ experience in exile–

being forced to live in the foreign land that was Babylon–

and mine–

being forced to live in the foreign land that was (and still is)

chronic fatigue.

Perhaps some of you have also gone through your own season of exile,

Feeling for a time like you’ve been forced to live in a land

that’s foreign and unfamiliar,

A place that’s uncomfortable and unknown,

A place that’s not what you expected or planned for,

A place that does not feel like home….

 

This could be caused, for example, by the death of a loved one

and the subsequent overwhelming grief…

Or perhaps by an unhappy marriage or a difficult divorce;

Maybe the landscape around you has become unfamiliar and uncomfortable

due to illness,

Or financial difficulties,

Or unemployment;

Maybe it’s depression or anxiety, or another type of illness in the brain,

whether in yourself or a loved one,

that leads you to feel as though you’ve been banished to a foreign land,

That you’ve been sent to some place that you did not choose to go

and where you sure as heck don’t want to stay–

Maybe it’s stress at home, or at school, or at work;

Or maybe–and this just might be something we can all relate to–

It’s the thought of one, or the other, or quite possibly either

of the major Presidential candidates being elected,

Or just the way our country has been behaving in this election season,

That has led us to a place that is not comfortable, not what we ever expected,

And definitely not feeling like anywhere we would ever want to call home….

 

And so, for a season, for any number of reasons, we feel as though we,

like the Jews of Jeremiah’s time,

are living in exile

Finding ourselves in places we don’t want to be…

yet are forced to by our circumstances;

Having experiences we don’t want to have…

yet get no say in the matter,

given the events of our lives;

Feeling as though we’ve been displaced

From all that’s familiar,

From anything that’s comfortable,

Maybe even from everything we’ve ever known,

Perhaps losing, in the process,

Any feeling of control,

Any semblance of order,

And even, possibly, our very sense of self.

 

Who are we now,

in this new, and unfamiliar, and uncomfortable place?

What do we do?

How do we behave,

in this existence akin to exile?

 

Because it’s hard…right?

And it hurts.

We may even feel hopeless,

wanting to cry out, “How long, O God, will this last??”

I know I have at times.

 

And yet…

And yet…

As people of faith,

As God’s people today,

like the Jews of Jeremiah’s time,

We’ve been given assurance!

We’ve been given cause to trust!

We’ve been given reason to hope!

 

Seemingly moments after the Jews had been sent into exile,

In the same letter of Jeremiah’s, in fact,

from which our passage this morning was taken,

After more than 25 chapters’ worth of God being furious

and bitter and threatening serious punishment,

God relents;

God doesn’t rescue the Jews from exile–they’re there for some seventy years;

But God’s heart softens, and God reminds his people

of his fundamental care for them, saying:  

[S]urely I know the plans I have for you…

plans for your welfare and not for harm,

to give you a future with hope.” (29:11)

 

And in the very next chapter, there are these assurances:

“As for you, have no fear…and do not be dismayed…

For I am with you, says the Lord, to save you…. (30:10-11)

And you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (30:22)

 

And again, in the next chapter, these beautiful words,

straight from the heart of God,

The reason for God’s care

and the reason for our hope:

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;

therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (31:3)

 

As people of faith,

As God’s people today,

like the Jews of Jeremiah’s time,

We know that what’s hard is not the end;

We know that what hurts will not have the last word;

We know that when things seem hopeless, that’s not the whole picture.

 

But how do we live in the meantime?

How do we live when we feel like we’re living in exile?

 

Listen again to the words God speaks in this morning’s passage,

God’s words to God’s people in exile:

 

First God says, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” (29:5)

In other words–even though you’re living in exile, keep living your lives!  

Don’t try to wish this away (because it’s not going away!),

don’t just sit around waiting for it to be over,

don’t simply lament the present and long for the return of the good ol’ days–

But live now,

Make a life where you are,

With whatever you’ve got,

Live, as fully as you can, in this moment–

Uncomfortable and unexpected and unfamiliar

though it may be….

 

Then God says, “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….” (29:6)

In other words–it’s gonna be a while!

This won’t be over as quickly as you’d like

And it might last longer than you can even imagine.

So settle in, and keep living as best you can….

 

And finally God says, “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.” (29:7)

In other words–even in exile, there are blessings to be found,

Even in exile, God desires our welfare!

There’s still peace to be had,

There’s still wholeness to be experienced,

There’s still reason to be hopeful…

And the blessing of God continues to be available.

It may not look the same as it’s looked in the past–

As it doesn’t come as result of our being in control

But rather as we recognize that God is in control;

It may not feel the same as it’s felt in the past–

As it doesn’t come according to our timetable and expectations

But rather as we learn to be patient

And wait on God’s timing;

But the blessing of peace is there, waiting to be found–

That peace that comes from trusting in God’s presence;

The blessing of wholeness is there, waiting to be discovered–

That wholeness that comes from relying on God’s goodness;

And the blessing of hope is there, waiting to be claimed–

That hope that springs from acknowledging God’s everlasting love

for us.

 

And speaking from experience, there may very well be other blessings, too….

Hidden and unexpected, perhaps, but nonetheless real–

My kids have all learned to cook, for example,

And can now be counted on to make supper fairly regularly.

My husband has become more involved with the kids’ daily lives

And is more aware of what they’re doing

(and what’s involved with having them do what they’re doing!);

And I’ve learned that there’s tremendous value in just being me,

That I don’t always have to be doing for others to find my worth.

 

Even with these many blessings, though,

Living in exile,

Being forced to live in a place that is foreign to us,

is hard.

Really hard.

It’s uncomfortable,

it’s unfamiliar,

It’s confusing, and maddening, and painful.

And we don’t know how to do it,

Or how long it’s going to last.

 

But we need to remember…

That even in exile,

The blessing of God continues.

 

As the Word of the Lord declared to the people of God in the days of Jeremiah,

So, too, the Word of the Lord declares to us, the people of God today…

 

That even in exile,

There’s peace to be had…

There’s wholeness to be experienced…

There’s reason to be hopeful.

 

That even in exile,

God’s presence,

God’s goodness,

And God’s everlasting love continues,

And God’s blessing remains,

Just waiting to be claimed….

I say…let’s claim it!  🙂
Amen.

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