Exile is an undesirable word. Say it slowly. It doesn’t leave a sweet aftertaste in your mouth of mint, more like bitterness of gall. It is in the company of ugly words like exit, ex-spouse, exam, and excruciating. Sounds like it came from the same neighborhood in the dictionary as eczema. No one wants to be in exile.
As a noun it means the following: expulsion from one’s native land by authoritative decree, prolonged separation from one’s country or home, as by force of circumstances: wartime exile… anyone separated from his or her country or home voluntarily or by force of circumstances.
Thirty years ago my wife and I started dating while we were finishing our college studies in Oklahoma. Have you ever been to Oklahoma? I would guess that it is not high on everyone’s list of vacation destinations. It is hot in the summer, with these nasty little bugs called chiggers that are the size of fleas and have the bite of a pit bull. There are tornadoes where every spring God tries to kill mobile homes.
Nette and I are both from Colorado. It says on the license plate Colorful Colorado. Do you know what it says on the license plate of Oklahoma? Not something mysterious like New Mexico’s Land of Enchantment. Not even something historical like Illinois’, Land of Lincoln. Not like Minnesota’s, Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. Not even the testosterone laced caption on the Texas’s plate that says, Don’t mess with Texas.
Do you know what is on Oklahoma’s license plate? Oklahoma is OK. Not “Oklahoma is Great, or Good or Getting Better…but just OK.” Seems like they are aiming kind of low.
As I began my married life I was caught in the tension between the mountains of Colorado or the red dirt of Oklahoma. Can you say exile? But it was in Oklahoma that I fell in love with my wife. It was in Oklahoma that I got to pastor my first church. It was in Oklahoma where my first child was born. It was in Oklahoma that I made life-long friends.
A funny thing about being in exile with someone you love. Oklahoma became beautiful. And in falling love with each other; we fell in love with the red-dirt-chigger-infested-high-humidity-mobile home-killing-funny-talking state called Oklahoma. When you are with someone you love, exile is not the same anymore.
About eleven years ago our family moved to the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Due to selfish decisions on my part the term “exile” literally became the reason we moved here. For years we tried to feel at home. I deepened my addiction to caffeine thanks to the ubiquitous Starbucks. I went backpacking in the Olympics and Cascade mountains. We bought a home. We gave our first child away to be married. Our grandchildren were born here. We made the best friends we have ever had anywhere.
And yet the scriptures were true about us that said,
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion… there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?” Psalms 137:1, 3-4
It just always felt like we were in exile.
But it was while we were pining away for colorful Colorado that God told us to 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. Jeremiah 29:7
And our exile has become our home.
Maybe God does not want us to get out of exile as much as He wants us to live closely with Him in our exile. For when you are in love with the Lord of the Exile you will find shalom. My personal longing for another place was my flesh talking. It is in exile that God wants to do a deeper thing in me and the land in which I find myself.
I know too many people who are longing for some place sunny, some place warmer, some place where people are friendly, someplace else…any place but where they are. It is called a geographical cure. But when you get close enough to God to listen to His gentle leadings in your heart and you begin to see your exile the way He sees it, it is at that point you start to love what He loves and you will want to live where He lives. Which just happens to be wherever you are.
Don’t be too quick to leave your exile. He has you there for a reason.