“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.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)
Jeremiah 29:11. The words etched onto dozens of Hallmark cards and echoed in thousands of graduation speeches every spring. Bright eyed and hopeful new graduates take comfort in the promised good future that God has for them. Mountains of homework are behind them. Sleepless nights studying are a dimming memory. And the six-month grace period for student loans provides reprieve to find a job before that first bill comes due. Sunshine is on the horizon and it is going to be a beautiful morning.
This is the promise of Jeremiah 29:11. But not the message of Jeremiah 29 or Jeremiah, aka the chapter and larger book that this one verse is taken from. If we take a vital step back into the context around this promising verse, there are no caps being thrown into the air. Instead there is a coming exile for the Israelites as God punishes them for decades of abandoning his laws and him. Jeremiah was a prophet, and like other prophets of the Old Testament was speaking a truth that very few around him wanted to hear. The message was to repent, and to prepare for a generation living in a foreign land. There is no undo button in this story. Only a proclamation to prepare for God’s plan.
That is the true promise of Jeremiah 29:11: God has a plan. Instead of tomorrow meaning a corporate jet, corner office, and 401K, the day after graduation might mean packing, job applications, or a whole lot of laundry. Those first steps beyond college will be a struggle. But that does not mean it’s not worth it. The real promise of Jeremiah is that God is working through that struggle, and will be there through it and beyond it.
“For I know the plans I have for you…” These words should not be a trite saying to sprinkle down on someone along with “break a leg” or “see you later alligator.” No, these words should be clung onto during dark nights of confusion about what’s next. Every finger should claw into the words, like a childhood sweetheart grasping the leg of a beloved leaving for battle. Muscles should ache pulling it one inch closer, with toes digging in behind to crawl backwards toward solid foundation. Tangled sounds flow into meaningless knots, while eyes crush together to keep out any distracting lights. All that matters is holding on. Every breath and heartbeat is new energy to hold on for one more moment.
God has a plan. He promised me. He promised you. He promised a disobedient people walking into exile. He sacrificed a beloved son for the plans he had for us. As we hold on, so does he.