In Jeremiah 29, the Israelites have recently been exiled from their home and moved to Babylon. They’re dejected and confused. “Why would God take us out of the land He promised us?”
The prophet Jeremiah, remaining behind in Israel with the very poor, has heard from God and sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon. I imagine they were expecting some hopeful news: “God is sending some warrior angels to rescue you! He will defeat the Babylonians tomorrow! Pack your bags!”
Instead, he has harder news: you’re not coming back to Israel for 70 years. Settle in.
“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 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; multiply there, and do not decrease. But 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.”
I have long loved this chapter in talking to new graduate students (the not-so-subtle metaphor here is to see grad school as exile, though I think rarely is grad school one of God’s punishments). To thrive in graduate school, one needs to view it not as a transitory period, where the temptation is to focus on schoolwork to the exclusion of all else. Jeremiah’s letter reminds us that we should invest deeply in our communities while we are there – make deep friendships, get involved in a church, even date, get married, and have children. Grad school is real life – not another holding pattern before “real life” starts.
Now I find this passage meaningful in a new way. I’ve been in the long, painful wait of infertility for about two years now. The extra challenge of infertility is that every month could be the last one. The uncertainty, the pain, and the hopefulness cycle over and over again, one after another.
I recently went to a support group where I found people who understood the unique challenges of this season. We shared many struggles, even down to not wanting to buy new clothes. “What if this is the month I get pregnant, and then I won’t be able to wear them?”
One woman wisely shared that God was asking her to live in to her current circumstances: buy a few new clothes, make the “baby room” a sewing room, make an appointment with the doctor. Don’t put your life on hold awaiting the good gift of a child.
I connected this beautiful idea to my beloved Jeremiah 29 passage*. I am especially meditating on the phrase, “Multiply there and do not decrease,” or in another translation, “Increase there and do not decrease.”
Alas, the immediate context of this phrase (meaning, “Have babies”) and being in the state of infertility are mutually exclusive. What, therefore, does “increase there and do not decrease” mean for me? What is God trying to grow in me during this barren time?
I am listening, I am praying, I am waiting as I sit here in Babylon, trying to grow and waiting for the call to come home. And I bought some new pants last week.
*I also have “Run the race that is set before you” (Hebrews 12:1) pinned to my desk. I only have to run the one race that God has given me, which at this moment includes infertility.