When Life Takes Unexpected Turns

Trusting God When His Plan Feels Like Plan B
by Traci Rhoades


There’s a popular verse we find on mugs, shirts, home decor, maybe even tattoos, and the first time I remember taking note of it, I saw it screen-printed on a bright throw pillow in flowy turquoise lettering: “‘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).

I needed a pillow like that. I didn’t recall reading that verse before, and at that particular stage in my life, I wanted it to be true for me. I was a country girl living in a big-city apartment, just starting out my career and wondering if God would ever send me a husband. It would be decades later when I began to understand the verse in its context.

With the exception of a short trip to Egypt against his will, the prophet Jeremiah lived in and around Jerusalem in the years following the Israelites’ Babylonian exile (see Jeremiah 40:6). Jeremiah saw entire families driven out of their homes, the temple pillaged and destroyed, the city walls torn down, and houses and land left abandoned (see 2 Kings 25). Whether exiled to a foreign country or left behind staring at the ruins, the Israelites couldn’t help but wonder if God had turned his face away from them.

We often face difficult situations in which we might ask a similar question. Has God turned his face from me? Maybe it is a move to a new town, or our church community crumbling around us, leaving us longing for answers and fellowship. Perhaps it is a health scare or a financial setback. Our family and friends may come and go as their own lives take unexpected turns. 

Even as Jeremiah prophesied about the hard reality of the ensuing decades, he reassured the Israelites God had promised them good in their future. Jeremiah reminded the people they could rely on God, even when things seemed dismal; amid their lamentations, God was still worthy of their praise.

My husband and I had been married for five years when we began thinking about having a baby. As we discussed this possibility, we chose to look for jobs closer to family. My husband took a position with a small company about an hour from his parents. I decided I would look for work after we had our first baby. Our plans were really coming together.

Amid their lamentations, God was still worthy of their praise.

Unexpectedly, it took me almost a year to become pregnant, but month by month, I learned to deal with the reality of “not yet.” Finally, the pregnancy stick gave us a positive sign. When I was four months pregnant, we learned that my husband’s company was letting him go.

This was not part of our plan.

My husband worked at his job for a few more weeks before eventually taking a job closer to home, and just after the new year, we welcomed our daughter into the family. Those months in between were difficult, emotional, and full of extra pregnancy hormones. God was faithful, though. One by one, he worked out every detail.

During this difficult time with so much unknown in our lives, it was just as Nehemiah would assure the Babylonian exiles when they returned to rebuild Jerusalem: “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Even when things didn’t go exactly as expected, when plans changed, we learned to rely on the Lord’s direction. He provided us with the strength we needed.

He did the same for the Israelites. Amid the turmoil, Jeremiah offered words of hope for those who stayed behind in Jerusalem as well as for those who had been exiled. May the words he shared offer us hope today too.

For the Jews still living in Jerusalem, Jeremiah demonstrated a practical display of the good that was coming. How did he do this? He bought a field—right there among the ruins. Judah’s last king, Zedekiah, had imprisoned Jeremiah for prophesying doom on the land of Judah and for declaring that the king himself would be carried off to Babylon (both of which happened). 

In a face-to-face encounter, Jeremiah told King Zedekiah what the Lord had instructed him to do. Jeremiah’s uncle wanted to sell a piece of land in Anathoth, about two miles outside of Jerusalem. As required by Levitical law, the uncle offered it to Jeremiah. Going into some detail about the legalities of the purchase, Jeremiah ultimately bought the field at a time when no one was buying land around Jerusalem, because things were getting worse by the day. From a human perspective, what God had asked of Jeremiah seemed crazy, yet he obeyed. He trusted God to see him through.

“For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land” (Jeremiah 32:15). In some of Israel’s darkest days, God used faithful people such as the Prophet Jeremiah to assure the people they would flourish again. God would never abandon them.

From a human perspective, what God had asked of Jeremiah seemed crazy, yet he obeyed.

Jeremiah also had a word for the exiles living in Babylon. Forced to forge a new life in a foreign land while waiting for the day they would hopefully return home, the Israelites were distraught and wondered how to move forward with their new lives. Let’s return to Jeremiah 29 for the answer.

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, 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 29:5–7).

Before I met my husband, I had been to the state of Michigan exactly one time. I knew nothing of the lakeshore or the vast Upper Peninsula. My husband wanted to return to his home state, so we bought a house, eventually gave birth to our daughter, and even planted a garden. In thinking back on this particular instruction in the passage above, I realized that seeking the peace and prosperity of the city took some time. While I was not in exile, Michigan was not in my plans. I wanted peace in my new home—that part came naturally. Seeking the prosperity of my city required me to take some form of ownership in this place. I needed Michigan to feel like my home in order for me to want it to prosper. I imagine this was also true for the Jewish exiles in Babylon—a land to which they’d been taken by force. 

How long does it take for a place to feel like home, especially when it isn’t somewhere you’ve ever imagined living? For me, it’s taken years. We’ve had two homes in this state, and decorating them in my style made them feel more like mine. I’ve had a few jobs over the years, and these helped me find an identity in a new place. Committing to a local church made a huge difference in forming a community. Becoming parents created opportunities to help us connect with a number of friends. We’ve made our own traditions for the holidays, which used to be so difficult away from my own family in Missouri. We have the best neighbors and good friends, live near some family, and overall have a great life—one for which I’m thankful.

But is Michigan home? This past summer, after traveling to Houston for my niece’s wedding, I sensed something had shifted in me. I enjoyed the family time but was content to make the long drive home to Michigan. I came back to the community in which I’m invested, and I hope we prosper together.

The exiles also ultimately experienced this same sense of contentment. About seventy years later, after King Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered the Babylonians, he decreed that the Jewish exiles could return home. But they didn’t all go. For those who returned to Jerusalem, they found their city in ruins and faced a heap of struggle and hard work (see Ezra and Nehemiah). Perhaps some of the exiles had experienced what I had—they had made a new place home and had grown accustomed to a new lifestyle, perhaps even one in which they were prospering. 

We can glean many lessons from the days of the Babylonian exile. Even amid change, we must not abandon godly living. As Christians, we can find contentment even when we wish for different circumstances. It takes time for a new city to feel like home; this is not our eternal home. Every step of the way, God has placed blessings in our path. As a result, we can live a life of trust and thankfulness. We can be a grateful people, confident about our future, because we know God is in it.

Prayerfully consider the following questions about the changing circumstances in your life:

  • How might God work this situation for good?
  • What blessings are in my life right now?
  • What steps can I take to show God I’m trusting him?

Traci Rhoades is a writer and Bible teacher who resides outside Grand Rapids, Michigan. @tracesoffaithblog

Scripture quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible.

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