Manna from Heaven by Amy Nicholson

When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” for they did not know what it was.

– Exodus 16:14–15 

I believe in being satisfied with what each day has to offer. The blessing of a sunrise, a safe place to sleep, food on the table. The very breath in our lungs is a gift. I find when I take a moment to name all the ways God is caring for me, the list is endless. Starting the day with a prayer of thanks puts my heart in the right place. I feel I am aligned with God’s will for my life, and I am in fellowship with the Holy Spirit. Likewise, ending the day on a grateful note, recalling all the ways God blessed me that day, is a unique form of worship. It is right to give him thanks and praise.

Even though I believe in being satisfied, and I realize there is much to be thankful for, and I know I honor God with my gratitude, I often find myself dissatisfied, striving for more. When there’s always food in the fridge and a functional car to drive, it’s easy to take the gifts for granted. Yes, I have everything I need to get through the day, but what about getting ahead? Is it so bad to want a better car? To live in a prettier neighborhood? Isn’t that just me telling God the gifts he’s already given me are not good enough? That kind of greed can cloud my vision of my present blessings.

Sometimes fear is the obstruction. I wonder if what I have is enough. Yes, we have what we need today, but what about tomorrow? What if I lose my job? What if my children get sick? I forget that it was God’s grace that got me where I am in the first place, not my own efforts. Yes, maybe I took steps to get here, but God blessed the steps, opened the doors, made a way. I have him to thank for my current situation, not myself. I spend an embarrassing amount of time worrying about the future. Scripture reminds me not to fret: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matt. 6:25–27)

Just as I worry if I will have enough money, enough food, enough endurance to run the race of life, that can lead me to fear if what I am is enough. Can I do this? Can I stick with this job until retirement? Is my work good enough to earn me a living? Can I care for my children they way they need to be cared for? Once I enter the dark pit of shame and self-pity, there is little hope of return.

But there is hope.

I pause and remember our daily bread. We always have something. We can always start where we are. Even if all we have is the shirt on our back and a crazy idea in our head, God is still caring for us. The sun still comes up. Air still fills our lungs. If we look around and consider our lives blessed rather than focusing on what’s missing, we find we have so much more than we originally thought. Maybe it’s time for a renewed mindfulness of the blessings at hand.

What is my daily bread? I have a home. That in itself is a huge blessing. I can thank God for that. And then I can share it with others. I have some food in the fridge. I can thank God for that and then share it. I have a talent. Again, gratitude and generosity.

Sometimes our daily blessings look like white bread: plain, simple, straightforward. We know what we’re supposed to do. We apply for a job, get the job, work to provide for our family. Sometimes it’s like wheat bread, a little more substantive, providing us with more fortification. We find a church that we can click with, meet some people whose beliefs line up with ours, and we are filled spiritually.

Sometimes, though, we feel like all we’ve got is a handful of crumbs. Is this paycheck going to cover my expenses this week? Is my kid going to pass the class with those grades? Will my lab results reveal a medical condition I was unaware of?

Often we don’t even know what we’re looking at. What we have doesn’t bear any resemblance to what we’ve known in the past. We have a job but we don’t know if we’re really making a difference in the world. Maybe we’re not quite sure what our job is. We wonder if our kids are going to be okay. Things aren’t happening fast enough. Is what we’re doing getting us where we think we’re going? Maybe there are elements of our lives we don’t understand.

The Israelites in the desert in Exodus 16 experienced uncertainty. When they were enslaved by Pharaoh in Egypt, at least they had food. They were used to eating all they wanted from pots of meat. In the desert, even though they were no longer slaves, the Israelites went hungry until God provided them with manna from heaven. At first, they didn’t know what it was. In fact, manna means “What is it?” It was foreign to them, but how grateful they must have been. The manna, and later the quail, nourished them daily for 40 years.

Can we embrace new situations even if they are foreign to us in the beginning? Can we embrace the rainy days as we do the sunny ones? We show this kind of daily gratitude by doing something as simple as making a stew only with what’s in the fridge instead of making another run to the store. Maybe we didn’t get the new job we had hoped for. Can we make the best of our current situation and bloom where we’re planted?

The problem with focusing on our difficulties rather than our blessings is that we run the risk of resorting to a “scarcity model” in our lives, believing we don’t have enough, aren’t good enough, will never do enough. At these moments we might recall 2 Corinthians 12:9, where Paul recounts Jesus’s words: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And James 1:17 centers our gratitude: “Every good and perfect gift is from above.

What about fear? We can’t be fearful and grateful at the same time. When I feel greed for more or the fear of scarcity well up, I can combat those feelings that take my focus off my blessings by returning to gratitude. How? I need to pause. I need to look at those kernels of white, fluffy popcorn pinched between my fingers, and, before I devour them like I did all the others, I need to say thank you. After Help and Wow, it’s the shortest prayer I’ll ever pray.  Thank you, God, for this delicious food. Thank you for always providing for my needs. While I’m at it, I can thank him for my fingers and the ingenious design of prehensile grasp.

Remarkably, the day I began writing this essay, it was around the end of a pay period and the cupboard was looking rather bare. I wondered what I’d serve my family for dinner that night. If I didn’t guard my heart and maintain gratitude, I could easily have descended to dissatisfaction with whatever was still available in the kitchen. I could have also feared the Lord would cease to provide. My husband came home that night with three huge Belgian waffles. I felt a little like an Israelite in the desert. What’s this?, I asked, quizzically. His aunt had made 350 waffles for church and decided to share her wealth with us. I shrugged my shoulders and gratefully declared that it would be waffles for dinner that night. Sometimes, it seems, manna comes in other forms.

Amy Nicholson hopes to encourage and inspire others through her writing. She has been published in Country Woman, the Old Schoolhouse, the Lookout, and other publications. In addition to writing and discovering grace in ordinary places, Amy substitute teaches. Visit her at: amynicholson14.wordpress.com.

 

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