Starting all over, either by force or by choice, is tough for anyone, young and old.
I remember when I had to attend a new elementary school at the age of eight. I was very upset about leaving all of my friends and relatives at Dillard Elementary School where I was a student for three years. I really felt like I belonged because the student body was very diverse and the faculty and staff were culturally conscious. We explored the world around us through lively and interactive presentations in our special classes and at our school assemblies. I didn’t want to leave all of that behind (this affected me a lot emotionally), but I eventually found the courage to adapt to the new faces and curriculum at my new school.
Many years later, when I left home for college at the age of 19, I quickly learned that my past experiences could not prepare me to adjust to my new environment in Tallahassee. Aside from now having to live in a slow-paced (and sometimes too friendly and scary) city, I had to pay my own rent, buy groceries and prepare my meals, nurse myself back to health when I was sick and deal with other issues without the help of my family. When the hurricanes blew through during that period, that was especially hard for me because my dad was not there to make me feel safe.
Reading the Bible, which appears to have a ‘starting over” theme weaved through all of the stories, helped a lot reminding me that I was never alone in life transitions.
After the Jews were taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar II, they spent 70 years as prisoners in Babylon. Prior to their exile, the Jews had already experienced slavery and deliverance in Egypt and made a life for themselves in Jerusalem.Yet, they were distressed because they lost their city, homes, pride, Temple (a symbol of their faith) and most importantly, the Ark of the Covenant. It was hard for them to get comfortable in the homeland of idolatry where the Babylonians bowed down to anyone but God.
When they had served their time – their captivity was the result of their sins and God’s subsequent judgment – King Cyrus of Persia sent a decree allowing the Jews to return to their land with the blessings of the Persian Empire. However, not many of them were willing to leave Babylon because they had already settled. The few that did return to Palestine had to start all over because all they found was rubble in the place they once called home. After many years of opposition, they were able to successfully rebuild the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem. A revival was held in celebration of this feat in which the prophets read books of the Old Testament and gave the Jews a renewed sense of hope.
Babylon represented chaos, but the Jews turned to God, who encouraged them to keep calm: “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. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity” (Jeremiah 29:11-14). Zion, the land of Judah, to which the Jews returned represented God’s spiritual kingdom. In retrospect, when the Jews went back home, they also returned to God’s unmerited favor.
In life, we will all experience change (both good and bad) and each one will feel like the first time — like we have been taken out of God’s goodness and held captive in a strange and chaotic environment. If we are not careful, we will settle in our broken places and miss out on our breakthrough. Instead of returning to God and rebuilding our shattered dreams, we will revel in pain, anger and bitterness and become sluggish.
That is not the purpose of God’s judgment or grace. He wants us to grow in the hard places in preparation for a fresh start. And if that seems like a daunting task, we only need to remember His promises to Israel through the prophet Isaiah: “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
References: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
“Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3:20