When Refusing to Settle Means Refusing to Live Well
Many years ago, a German family left their home and emigrated to Argentina. They missed the Fatherland and longed to return. And so, they determined to live their days on German time. They awoke when the sun rose over Germany, while it was still dark outside their own windows. They ate under the mid-afternoon sun and retired before sunset. For years — I don’t know how many — they lived out of sync with their neighbors.
An Argentine friend told us this tale. It has the feel of an urban — nix that — rural legend. However accurate the details, refusing to settle down in a new land is not new.
My grandmother left England in 1949 to move to a tiny coal town on the coast of Atlantic Canada. She and her young husband agreed that, if she still missed England in seven years, they would return home. Seven years!! She was dreadfully homesick at times but eventually Canada became her home.
In later years — I suppose when I moved overseas — she shared that some English war brides had never stopped pining for England. They refused to call Canada home even after many years.
Long ago, some Israelite exiles felt the same way. They’d been exiled to Babylon. Like many of us, these, God’s people, were clear on what God’s plan for them should be. They even had a so-called prophet preaching that God had approved their plan. They’d be home in Jerusalem within two years.
God’s Plans or Ours
“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. We love to quote these verses at graduations and farewell dinners. Anytime we step into the unknown, we cling to the reassurance that God’s plans for us are good.
And they are.
But. We get off track, reading into these word promises that aren’t there.
God says, his “plans [are] to prosper you and not to harm you”. (Jeremiah 29:11) We hope he means, “I know the plans you have for you and I won’t mess with them. I will bless your plans. I will make sure you prosper and succeed. Everything will work out.”
The broader context of these verses makes it clear that this is NOT what is going on here.
God’s “good plans” for his people were very different than their plans for themselves.
These words are part of a letter sent from Jeremiah, God’s prophet, to the Israelites exiled in Babylon. He does promise to bring them out of captivity. They will return home to Jerusalem. But not on their timeline. Not soon.
He’s telling them, Your children or grandchildren will return to Jerusalem, but you won’t live to see it. In the meantime, this is the plan: Live your life. Go to weddings. Host parties. Plant carrots and potatoes. Water them. Harvest them come fall. Build a house. Make clothes for winter. Get married. Raise kids who get married. Have babies and grand babies. You’re here for awhile. Pray for this place. When things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you. (Jeremiah 29:4–7)
Laura Ross Greiner says it this way. “God was telling the [exiled] Israelites …living in less-than-ideal circumstances — that they must keep on keeping on. God did not want them getting stuck, sitting around waiting for their current situation to get better. He wanted them to live abundantly in their here and now.”
This strikes a chord. We’re in a transition period — again. Hubby is traveling and learning a new job. We are mentally preparing for a move. Yet, daily life continues. School lunches. Soccer games. Dinners and bedtimes and play dates.
Do we mentally check out or do we “keep on keeping on”, engaging in life here until it’s time to go? Staying invested in daily life requires intention. Some days more than others.
There was a time when settlers were the adventurous ones. Settling the land meant leaving family and the familiar. Settlers embraced great risk for the promise of a better life.
These days, settling suggests the opposite. Accepting the familiar. Avoiding the unpredictable. Settling is for the cautious. The fearful.
No commencement address encourages grads to “just settle”. We preach that kids have huge — maybe even unlimited — potential. Reach for the stars. Work hard. Keep learning and stretching. In academics and business, as in our love lives, we want so much more than to “just settle”.
There is truth here. Fear shouldn’t dictate our choices. Life-long learning and exploring are gifts. Yet, at times the drive to do more — to be more — can hinder our ability to be content.
Is there an area where you’re taking your resistance to “just settling” a step too far? Feeding discontent and feeling that less-than-ideal means never-good-enough?
Your business isn’t growing as fast as you’d like. You’re still renting when you want to own your own home. You’re still dating when you’d rather be married. Meeting new friends is taking longer than you’d hoped. Your kids are in a challenging stage. Your ministry feels insignificant.
Whatever your situation, take your plans and your frustrations to God. Ask him about his plans for you. Maybe he’ll show you something you’ve overlooked in your preoccupation with your plans. His plans for you are good, even when they’re not what we expected.