From the balcony window I can look out over the city and see the airport, usually marked by the coming and going of planes, in the distance. Often, I have stood and watched, bare toes on cold tiles, tea steaming in my hands, and watched as a plane makes a slow, wide circle, once, twice, and again. A holding pattern. The plane makes gigantic loops across the sky as it waits for the way to be cleared and permission to land.
I can relate. I returned to my passport country two years ago and have been aching to be back in the field on foreign soil since the moment I arrived. A myriad of good things and challenging things have kept me from going again, yet I can’t quite settle. I’m in a holding pattern. A pause in the journey. Circling the destination, but never quite able to land.
And then this year, the whole world has joined me in it. A collective pause from ‘normality’ and an endless circling around of plans and goals which never quite come to fruition. The ever-changing and oft contradictory information and situation mean that I feel far from settled or slowed down. I know that many feel the same way. This season could have, should have, been a time of slower pace and investing in relationships and in God but, instead, we’re battling to balance the things that vie for our attention and prioritise the most important, and we’re making our slow and restless loops as we wait to land.
Praise God that he is steadfast and unchanging though I and all the world are not! As I’ve spent time in his word recently, I’ve noticed the way that he calls people to be present where they are. Most clearly this stood out to me in Jeremiah 29. The vast majority of the Israelite people have been carried away to exile in Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzer and they know, through the prophet Jeremiah, that this exile will last for seventy years. False prophets are insisting that it won’t last that long and Jeremiah confronts them repeatedly. Can you imagine? Seventy years in the holding pattern, an enforced pause in plans and purposes, restless and unsettled, longing to land, longing for home. Their experience and ours are very different, but I can imagine many of the emotions were the same.
Fear. Confusion. Frustration.
Perhaps they were tempted to stay unsettled in this time, but God calls them to something else. He tells them to settle. To build houses and grow gardens, to have families, to prosper, and to seek the prosperity of the city they are in (Jer. 29:5-6). God doesn’t tell them to stop longing for Israel, but he does call them to commit to where they are and to pour out their lives in obedience to him right there in a hostile and foreign land.
This in itself is stunning, but there’s more. God promises the people that after the seventy years, he will gather them from the nations and bring them home, and they will be his people and he will be their God. The exile is a consequence of their sin and rebellion, but God will use it to bring about something beautiful and wonderful to behold. I recommend reading Ezra and Nehemiah to see how the people turned back to God. There are moments there that I can’t read without tears in my eyes as I am reminded that our God is an awesome and holy God, worthy of all praise and honour and glory.
We are not the Israelites in exile. But I am learning that God is saying the same thing to me. “Enough with the holding pattern and the restlessness. Long for other things, yes. Pray for a vaccine, for safety and clarity. Pray for those who are sick and for those who are suffering and grieving. Pray for change. But rest in the knowledge that I know you. I know your heart and I love you. And be where you are. In this season, this pause, follow Me.”
I’m a slow learner, but he is gentle and kind and we’re getting there. I’m learning what it looks like for me to land in this season, not where I want to be, but where I am, and to be present and faithful in it. I’m learning that obedience to God is a joyful thing and that there are unexpected and unlooked for treasures even in the hardness of the pause. I wonder if you are discovering the same thing.
What is God saying to you in this season? How are you learning to be present in it?