How often someone can speak about a desire to escape to a deserted island when life feels overwhelming, but the Tom Hanks’ movie, Castaway, presents a much less glamorous picture without likely still covering the full scope of such a reality. Most of us enjoy getting away on a vacation, away from our usual responsibilities and schedule but it isn’t “home” and after a rest and reprieve from our routines, we tend to look forward to returning home.
Being uprooted can bring a lot of different things to mind. It may connote disconnection from a place or people we love or a required transfer from a job and routine that we have known. It can mean leaving home and moving because you have married, been deployed for military service, or been forced to move into assisted living.
Many have felt uprooted by the challenges this pandemic has created. That means nothing about our usual activities or connections with others have been the same for many months. For some it has resulted in feelings of isolation due to the separation from those people and things they most value. Home has been where we spend most of our time and for some who live alone it has been harder to cope with as the months have stretched into a year.
But there is another kind of uprooting that is more ominous that some have faced – exile. From those persons we can learn much beyond the more common kinds of uprooting and sense of isolation I have described.
Exile requires us to take a road to a place that is not of our choosing. Eugene Peterson gives the meaning this way:
“The essential meaning of exile is that we are where we don’t want to be. We are separated from home. We are not permitted to reside in the place where we comprehend and appreciate our surroundings. We are forced to be away from that which is most congenial to us. It is an experience of dislocation – everything is out of joint; nothing fits together.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses
Whether we are exiled or more commonly uprooted the crucial question is how we respond to it. They each are tests of our character and the foundation on which all we are rests. The uprooting caused by the pandemic and its consequences give us a glimpse of how we might respond if exile was ever required of us.
We can spend the time lamenting about what has changed or we can use the time as an opportunity for growth.
“…this very strangeness can open up new reality to us. An accident, a tragedy, a disaster of any kind can force the realization that the world is not predictable, that reality is far more extensive than our habitual perception of it. With the pain and in the midst of alienation a sense of freedom can occur.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horse
How easy it can be to forget this world in which we live is not our home. Peter reminds us of that in 1 Peter 2:11. Our lives will always be prone to uprooting and upending, pain and dislocation, so long as we are on the earth. It doesn’t mean that we will not have good times, pleasure, comfort, sweet memories, but the earth has been contaminated ever since Adam and Eve fell in the Garden of Eden and we live out those consequences even now. But if we are believers in God, in his goodness, mercy, and grace and have been restored to Him through Christ there’s “a better” ahead of us beyond our capacity to fully imagine.
Various people groups have experienced exile that was both terrifying and traumatic. One of those was Israel. Their exile recounted in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah and elsewhere is described by Eugene Peterson:
“Israel’s exile was a violent and extreme form of what all of us experience from time to time. Inner experiences of exile take place even if we never move from the street on which we were brought up.”
“These experiences of exile, minor and major, continue through changes in society, changes in government, changes in values, changes in our bodies, our emotions, our families and marriages. We barely get used to one set of circumstances and faces when we are forced to deal with another.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses
Living life requires us to adapt to change because this quote about change being a constant in life is true. No matter how much we might think we enjoy change or actually do, not all changes will be of our own choosing. Our bodies will change and age and that will bring other changes (many will not be ones we enjoy). If we accept this truth about change and the words of Peter, then perhaps we can rest in the surety that our faith can grow and even thrive in the midst of being an exile or uprooted at any level.
“The only place you have to be human is where you are right now. The only opportunity you will ever have to live by faith is in the circumstances you are provided this very day: this house you live in, this family you find yourself in, this job you have been given, the weather conditions that prevail at this moment.”
“Exile reveals what really matters and frees us to pursue what really matters, which is to seek the Lord with all our hearts.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses