“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.” Jeremiah 29:5
The people Jeremiah preached to were in exile in Babylon, a dark and difficult time. Jeremiah’s message was not one of sunny hope, but sober challenge. He said, “Build houses and plant gardens.”
The people must have wondered, “What does he mean build houses and plant gardens? You only do that if you are going to be in one place for a long time. I can’t stay here! I want things the way they used to be! What’s the point of building houses and planting gardens here in this God-forsaken place?”
God’s response? Building houses and planting gardens is exactly the point because they would have to stay in that place. There would be no returning home. They would never be able to forget that painful chapter, and they would never “get over it.” The disaster did not have a quick fix. Instead they faced a permanent break.
Do you understand their challenge? We all have a mental picture of how life should be. It’s a romantic picture, a Norman Rockwell type picture. We are blessed much of the time to have many scenes like that. But then someone or something comes along with a large black marker and scrawls all over the picture. It will never be the same. Life has tumbled in. What then? Do you “get over it?” Probably not. There is a better way.
My Dad was a pilot for the Air Force. He accumulated more than 14,000 hours in the air during a very exciting time in aviation history. He earned his wings near the end of WW II, and flew during the transition from props to jets. Dad had 11,000 hours in props, 3000 in jets. He claimed he could fly anything, and accumulated most of his hours instructing pilots for the Air Force. I grew up with great stories of Dad’s exploits. He was heroic in my eyes.
My mother, of course, did not have quite the same heroic stature, but Mom lovingly brought to us exactly what we needed. She was bright and positive and pretty. Her greatest ambition was to be a mother who took care of the house and was home when her children got off the school bus. It was Norman Rockwell.
In 1962, when he was about 39, Dad began having some numbness and fatigue. After a series of tests, the doctors were uncertain of the cause. Maybe a brain tumor. Though they didn’t know precisely, they knew enough to order Dad not to fly. Later they diagnosed him with MS. He was grounded. He couldn’t fly. He couldn’t even run. Eventually, he couldn’t work at all. In a span of a couple of years Dad went from being a hot-shot pilot to being forcibly retired. Mom went from doing the only thing she had ever wanted to do, to going to work full time as a teller in a savings and loan.
I don’t really remember much about those years. I was about four and can only recall staying with someone while Mom went with Dad to the doctors and hospitals. I knew something was wrong. In subsequent years I can remember Dad would have occasional spells when the disease would nearly paralyze him, and we didn’t know if he would ever get up.
He always did, a little slower than before he went down. He could drive and take Mom to work. He struggled with stairs and tired easily, but we had a good life growing up. We had an unspoken motto during those years, one that I could articulate later in life, and only now realize its importance.
Mom said it when Dad had to enter a nursing home in the 1990’s. I asked “How are you doing Mom?” “We’ll make it,” she said. “Bill and I talked about it, and we said again we just have to adjust and go on. That’s all there is to it.”
Adjust and go on. All my growing up we made adjustments and went on. That’s what God was saying to the people in exile when He told them to build houses and plant gardens. You will never return to the Norman Rockwell painting. You must adjust and go on.
God promised daily bread. He will give you what you need for today. He will not ask you to face more than you can endure, and He does not want you to endure it alone. He is with you. He also doesn’t ask that you “get over” some tragedy or difficulty. That’s impossible. You never get over some problems, and God doesn’t expect you to. You do have the choice of adjusting and moving on.
I don’t believe in insurmountable problems. I do acknowledge that some problems abide for as long as I live. What I really believe in is a God who gives strength and wisdom to adjust and go on. He offers the same resource to you. Adjust and go on.
Dr. Terry Ellis
January 16, 2012