This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.”
Jeremiah 29:10 (NIV)
It is mid-May. Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I believe that Mother’s Day weekend is the most popular weekend for colleges and universities to hold their graduation commencements. Social media was wall-to-wall young people in their caps and gowns this weekend. And, we’re not even close to being done. The coming weekends will be chock full of high school commencements, and there are exponentially more school graduates than college graduates. Punch bowls are getting pulled out of storage. White sheet cakes are being made en masse. Millions of greeting cards are being sold.
On Saturday morning, Wendy and I made a trip to her family’s gathering. She played for me a commencement address by writer and humorist, David Sedaris, who was receiving an honorary degree from a university. We laughed all the way to her parent’s house. It was a humorous take on the genre of speeches that millions of graduates will hear this month. Young people full of hope and optimism preparing to launch on their respective life paths with a fresh copy of Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go tucked under their arm. That’s another thing you can plan on every May: the return of Dr. Seuss to the summit of the New York Times’ bestseller list.
I can guarantee you that a good percentage of graduates will receive at least one card of congratulations with a verse from today’s chapter. It’s the verse after the verse I quoted at the top of the post/podcast:
“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.”
This is a verse that is tailor made for a graduation card, a calendar, a daily planner, a personal journal, a wall plaque, or any number of gifts and trinkets. Somewhere, I’m sure there’s a well-worn frisbee with that verse inspiring the dog who’s retrieving it for millionth time.
But here’s the thing…
Jeremiah’s words were not intended for young people crossing an educational finish line with a lifetime of hope and opportunity ahead of them. His words were addressed to a people who’d been ripped from their homes, bound (some were likely even been led with a ring through their nose), and drug hundreds of miles to a foreign land. Among them was a young man named Daniel, who certainly would have read Jeremiah’s words from today’s chapter. He was among those for whom they were intended. Daniel may have been the age of many people graduating this month when Jeremiah’s letter arrived, but “Oh! The places you’ll go!” in his young aspirations did not include the city of Babylon in the service of a mad-king. Yet, that’s where he found himself looking at enrollment in the school of hard-knocks and a lifetime of servitude. Jeremiah’s letter promised Daniel and his fellow exiles redemption and return in seventy years. Imagine how that promise sank in. Daniel knew the odds were against him being among those returning. Subsequent generations would enjoy that promise. He was looking at a life-sentence of exile.
And, in the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think that this contrasting reality is perhaps a more honest and truthful message for any graduate who is a follower of Jesus to hear in preparation for the rest of their life journey. It’s certainly more sobering, and not as entertaining as the words of David Sedaris that Wendy and I listened to this weekend. My life journey as a disciple of Jesus has confirmed for me the truth of Jeremiah’s promise. God does have a plan and purpose for me. But, the plans and purpose God has for me are ultimately not about my earthly success or my prosperity, security, safety, or comfort, though all of those things may certainly be experienced along the way. Rather, God’s purpose and plans are about my life of exile and captivity in a temporal, fallen world. They are about my spiritual maturity, my obedience to the One whom I follow, and my increasing measure of sacrificial love and generosity to others all the days of my exile. The purpose, I’ve discovered, is really about my bit part in a story that is ultimately not about me.
I doubt many graduates will hear this. Oh, the places we want to go don’t include the failures, difficulties, setbacks, losses, mistakes, broken dreams, divorce decrees, terminal illnesses, tragic deaths, or the painful consequences of our own poor choices. Nevertheless, those are the requisite pathways to the plans and purposes God has for His children like Daniel, like me.
Of course, like the false prophets that Jeremiah addresses in today’s chapter, there are far more popular messages to echo that are far more enjoyable to hear by mass audiences.
“Wear sunscreen,” for example.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.