Lately I’ve been wandering in a personal desert; knowing where I have left but unsure of where I am going. Having completed the most transformative year of my life serving on an urban ministry program in Philadelphia I am realising that the price of a mountaintop season is an inevitable comedown into a season of valleys. Happiness and sadness are on the surface. Below the stream of mood are the undercurrents of joy and depression.
The valley is what I’m going through now. It’s hard. But it’s also good. I’m sensing a deep journey taking place in my soul. Something is moving. Shifting. Growing. I am sensing birth pains in my spirit. In faith I say they are the pains of birth. Most of the time I don’t feel a birth. I just feel pain.
I’m living with people I don’t know in a city I’ve never lived in. They’re lovely but I don’t know them. I am humbled by their kindness and my need of it. Consistently. I’m not unemployed. I have found a job at a radio station but it’s 6 hours a week. THat’s not enough to live on. I’m looking for work that’s doable but also somewhat meaningful.
And Church is hard. Really hard. I can take it on certain weeks and on others I simply can’t. I can’t just consume church like i used to. I am fundamentally different now.
I have a longing to return to America. I found so much lfie there. I found a consolation that plunged so deep into my heart that I didn’t know I could be loved and touched and seen by God in the ways God loved and touched and saw me there. Something there fed my soul that had been starved of the proper food for so long. The wonder I felt. The connection to my surroundings and to the people and to my own soul were some of the most precious moments I have ever experienced.
I am eternally grateful for the words that were spoken to me and over me there. “You are valued. You are the beloved. Your story matters.” I will always take these words with me.
Something odd happened in my heart in Philadelphia. I voiced it multiple times in the weeks and days as I was leaving there : “Never in my life have I wanted to stay as much as I want to stay here. I have always wanted to leave. Not this time.”
I wonder if this longing is something from God. I wonder if it will go away. I wonder what I will do with it in a year if it hasn’t gone away.
In the quietness of my heart I slowly heard a word come to the forefront of my thinking over this week : Exile.
I immediately identified with the word as soon as I heard it clearly. Yes. This is exile. This is what exile feels like for me. There are voices in my head that say this word does not apply to me because I am in my passport country and I should call this place home. But I refuse to call this place home. I do not belong here. In my life right now this place is Babylon. This place is exile.
As I listened more i was reminded of a passage in the Bible where the prophet Jeremiah writes a letter to the Israelites in exile in Babylon. I haven’t interacted with the bible for many weeks now but these words resonated with me :
‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.
Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.
Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
This is what the LORD says “I will come to you and fulfil my good promise to bring you back to this place.
For I know the plans I have for you.
Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
I will be found by you and will bring you back from captivity.”
I remembered that this was the passage that Pastor J preached on as I was entering Mission Year at national orientation in Chicago in September 2015. It seems fitting for this verse to come back to me again as I start what is known unofficially as Mission year two where it gets put into practice for real in my own context.
These are good lessons to not just learn but to live as well. I have found myself coming face to face with my underlying doubt that Christians don’t really hear from God. They just do what they think is right and try to make themselves happy and follow the Christian rules. I’m sure some christians actually do that too. But I don’t want that to be me. I want to live an authentic life following Jesus wherever the journey takes me. It looks like this is what the road looks like for the next few dozen miles.