Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But 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. 8For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream,* 9for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 29: 4-9)
Jeremiah sends this letter to the exiles in Babylon sometime following the deportation from Jerusalem in 597 B.C.E. Jeremiah addresses issues faced by the exiles. His word that their stay in Babylon would be lengthy was disputed by several false prophets who were fomenting unrest among them. Jeremiah’s basic response to the exiles is to settle in for the long haul, but they should know that God has not forgotten them.
I feel like I am coming out of exile now that I have been vaccinated and am venturing out a bit. And yet, God’s advice to the exiles in Babylon also resonates. Instead of an unusual list of brand-new imperatives, he instructs them to do to the ordinary. I wonder if they felt as strange practicing the ordinary in their new environment as I feel practicing ordinary activities today.
Eighteen months ago, I thought nothing of eating in crowded restaurants or leading worship. But some activities that I did so regularly feel weird. It is like getting into the driver’s seat after a week at Luther Heights, during which my car stayed in the staff parking lot or picking up a basketball after a few years not under a hoop or sitting down at a piano and reacquainting myself with the keyboard. But the practicing I am doing these days seems crazy. Most of us have worshiped, carried on small talk, gathered indoors in public spaces for years. Here are a few suggestions if you find yourself out of practice.
- Give yourself grace if you feel awkward doing things that once were part of your daily life.
- Pace yourself in your reentry if possible.
- Celebrate when the practicing goes well.
- Recognize that we are all in a different place with reentry. For example, some people were always considered Essential Workers. Reentry may be quite different for them compared to a retiree with asthma who lived quite isolated the past year.
- Be curious and empathetic about one another’s varying experiences.
- Ground your reentry in prayer. If you are nervous or anxious or excited, take three deep breaths and offer a prayer that is poetic or as simple as “God, please help me.”
- Know that people have missed see you! So please keep practicing.