Thursday, April 24, 2008

Minus 95: Losing the Biggest Part of Your Life

This is what the Lord Almighty says to all those I carried into exile . . . Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce . . . seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile (Jeremiah 29: 4-7).

Let’s do the math again.

A small percentage of your week is spent in church. Whatever that percentage might be, it is certainly well spent, but it’s a small percentage no matter how you slice it. We’re calling it the 5%.

That leaves 95% of your week spent doing other things. The life of faith finds true expression in that 95%. At work, at home, at leisure, whatever a typical week involves – that’s where you live the Jesus way. Following Jesus happens in the 95.

But what happens when the 95 is lost?

Of course, literally speaking, the time on the clock that makes up your 95 can’t be lost. But sometimes the life you’ve known, the activities and endeavors that define your 95 can seem to vanish. Here one week, gone the next.

What happens to your 95 when you’ve lost your job? What happens to your 95 when you lose a marriage? What happens to your 95 when you lose the physical capacity to do the things you’ve always enjoyed doing? What happens to your 95 when your spouse slowly loses the memory of the life you’ve shared?

There’s a biblical word that captures this kind of experience. The word is “exile.” God’s people went through a period of exile and this experience is told in different places in the Hebrew Scriptures. The essence of exile is dislocation. Everything that has defined life – the large piece we’re calling “my95” – is taken away.

To be in exile is to lose your place, your people, your practices of worship and play. Whatever it is that makes you “you” is gone.

In Jeremiah 29 we read about two ways of responding to exile that were placed before God’s people. On one hand there was a prophet by the name of Shemaiah who basically encouraged the people by telling them that they would soon get home and things would soon get better. His message was about waiting for the old ways, the old 95, to be restored again.

In contrast there was the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah basically said, don’t waste time waiting for the old 95 to come back again. Live your life now. Embrace the 95 God has given you today. Build houses, plant gardens, get married, have babies. Live the life God has given you today, not the life you used to have, not the life you wish you had.

Jeremiah’s message was hard to hear, but it had the ring of truth. A truth that’s worth hearing when it seems that the 95 you’ve known is no longer your 95. As difficult as it may be, the life you have today is a life that can bring honor God. You may feel dislocated, lost, bereft of the 95 you worked hard to achieve – but God is with you in the life you have today, in the place where you find yourself right now.

So do the things life demands of you today. If you have a job, go to work. If not, look for work yet another day. Mow your grass. Hug your children. List the errands and get them done. Live the life you have right now. In the simple bravery of living this day, God meets you with grace.

I give you thanks, O God, that life is not defined by my plans and expectations, but by your grace. Give me strength for the simple and ordinary tasks of this day. Remind me that the life I have today comes to me by your hand. Make my heart brave to live it well, and make me thankful in everything this day will bring. Amen.

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