Written By Cecilia Leung
You know that oft-quoted verse, Jeremiah 29:11? I hate it. If you bring it up to me right now, I’m liable to break down in tears or leave the room, slamming the door behind me.
Here’s the context. I’ve long had an irrational fear of ending up living on the outskirts of a small town in America. It might seem silly, but this is something I’ve really struggled with, and thought I eventually made peace with. For the first few years of marriage, my husband and I, and eventually our son, lived very happily in that dreamy, suburban neighborhood I had feared so much.
But two years ago, we were given the chance to move to the Asian metropolis I had spent some of my formative years in, Hong Kong, and we leaped at the chance.
From the day we landed, it felt like this was where we were meant to be. My husband, my son, and I, all thrived in different ways on this side of the world. Without need for much discussion, we both agreed that this is where we wanted to raise our son. This is where we were going to live for the next 20 years, and maybe for the rest of our lives.
We dreamed about the future. We relished the little daily memories we were making—picking out greens at the wet market while our child admired the frogs for sale; ordering roast pigeon for dinner at the noisy outdoor restaurants; watching the old men play chess in the park, chattering happily in the local language on the playground . . .
Then, because of a series of complex reasons, we made the decision to move back to America.
While we were convinced that a move will be best for our family in the long term, in many ways, it was the last thing we wanted to do. We both cried as we made the decision. America is great and all, but it is just not what we imagined for our lives.
I look around the home we thought we would raise our son in, and realize that it is not to be. Looking at frogs in the market, eating at outdoor restaurants . . . these things will no longer be a part of our daily lives. This will not be my son’s childhood.
And that hurts.
Letting go of dreams really, really hurts.
As I was crying myself to sleep the night after we made our decision to move, it occurred to me that I had been reading Jeremiah on and off throughout the summer, and would be reading chapter 29 the next day.
That threw me into a fresh round of tears.
I knew that in chapter 29, Jeremiah writes a letter to the Israelites in exile in Babylon. He tells them they are to remain in Babylon for 70 years. In the past, every time I heard that “70 years” promise (Jeremiah 29:10), I had always thought to myself, “Hey, that’s not so bad. They know when they’ll get to return to Israel.”
But this time it struck me. 70 years. That’s long enough for a generation to die. The parents who took their children from their ancestral homes in Israel to the foreign soil of Babylon—they would grow old and die, never seeing the familiar trees and bushes and boundary stones of their home again.
Is that how long we would be away from the place we had wanted to call home? Of course, we could (hopefully) come back for visits. But it wouldn’t be the same.
Through Jeremiah, God told the Israelites to “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters” (Jeremiah 29:5-6).
Build houses. Settle down. Plant gardens. Marry off your children. This is your new home, Israelites. You’re here to stay. Dig in. Invest. Live life.
It felt like God was talking directly to me.
You know, I’ve always been interested in growing things. I have a peanut plant growing in a pot in my tiny kitchen at the moment. But gardens are a near-impossibility in my beloved metropolis. “Plant gardens,” God says. Move back to America.
If I were less emotionally distraught, I would have admitted earlier that planting a garden would be lovely. I could grow peanuts, carrots, leeks, sunflowers . . .
But I did not want to move back. Don’t You dare tell me to plant gardens!
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).
But they are not my plans! In that moment, I did not want God’s stinking plans to “prosper” me. I did not want His hope and His future. I wanted my hope, my future—a future that involved raising my family here!
I cried myself to sleep.
I cried myself to sleep the next night as well, and the night after that.
But God is patient. He let me throw my little tantrums, and I didn’t get struck by lightning or anything.
Letting go of dreams hurts. But it’s something all of us have to deal with at some level or another. So many people throughout history have had to make harder decisions than we are making. At least I don’t know that we will be in America for the next 70 years. Who knows, maybe we’ll get to come back after 10 or 20 years or something. One could hope.
We’re making plans for the move now, obedient to where we think God is calling us to.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
These are most definitely not my plans. I would prefer things to go my own way. But I guess God knows best. He’s probably working things out right now, planning minute details that we won’t even notice until we look back with 20/20 hindsight years from now. He knows better than me what I need, what my husband needs, what my child needs.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
I’m trusting You on this one, God. I don’t like Your plans right now, but I trust You. You’ll work things out, one way or another. I’m sure in the long run, I’ll look back and be thankful for everything that’s happened. But it might take me a while to get to that point. Be patient with me.
You know what’s best, God. I trust You.