manna and muffins

Last week a friend sat in my kitchen while I cooked dinner. She lives overseas, in her husband’s home country, where they care for children from their community (among many other things). As we chatted, and I chopped, I said something about not knowing exactly how much I was fixing. “It’s okay, though,” I said. “God taught me awhile ago that no matter how many gather around the table or who shows up unexpectedly, the food will stretch. There will always be enough.”

She laughed and then her face grew serious as she told me of a conversation she’d had with a well-meaning friend not long before. “She said my husband and I had taken on too much, that we shouldn’t have taken in all the kids, that it’s too much stress on our marriage.”

I stopped chopping and looked at her. “What did you say?”

She shrugged. “I told her I didn’t think we had any more stress than any other cross-cultural marriage, and, besides, what were we supposed to do? Turn the kids away?”

When the Israelites were in the wilderness, a place God describes in the book of Jeremiah as “a land of drought and deep darkness,” they understood they were completely at the mercy of God. They had no capability of providing for themselves. He had put them in a place of utter dependence.

And God provided. Manna fell from the sky, and there was always just the right amount of it. Some gathered “more, some less. But when they measured it …, those who had gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage.” Those who purposely gathered extra—in case the Lord didn’t come through the next day—found their leftovers had worms, but on the Sabbath Day, when no manna fell from heaven, the amount gathered the day before was miraculously enough.

The Israelites forgot this as soon as they fell into some natural resources. “I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things,” God said. But in the apparent ability to nurture one’s own sustenance, to provide for oneself—they forgot God. (See Jeremiah 2:6-8)

Even the slightest bit of abundance makes us, too, forget that every meal, every resource comes from God—just as much as the manna did. There is no sufficiency outside him. ALL we have is gift, is manna, given to nourish us and given to be shared—and to miraculously multiply in the sharing. Do we believe this? Do we believe God will stretch what he’s given us when we stretch out our hand to press it into the palm of another? We have been given the privilege of witnessing, like the disciples, the loaves and fish mysteriously expanding, being enough—and MORE—for everyone, filling and overflowing needs, becoming abundance.

But this miracle of multiplication and abundance cannot be set in motion without our sharing what is perceived as “ours” (money, talents, time, resources) with others. Sometimes, though, the miracle is hidden from our sight, and we continue to worry, to wonder, “Did we give too much? Will we have enough for us?”

Oh, to realize that the answer to this question is ever and always “NO!” In and of myself I cannot provide enough. But God has and IS enough and more. If we are honest enough to ask it, the question beneath is, “Will He have enough?” but we dare not ask that question because to say it out loud seems sacrilegious, a bit blasphemous, because, after all, of course he has enough. He’s GOD!

But what are we saying when we make the question instead about our own resources? Are we suggesting we can be sufficient without him? that we’d like to make it on our own? Are we essentially saying, Thanks but no thanks, God; I’ll call out when I’m really in dire straits, but I’ve gained some independence, you know. Grown up into a responsible adult, capable, hardworking.

Oh, but God didn’t grudgingly give the manna, and he didn’t provide the land with its resources to get the Israelites off his to-do list. He longs to provide for us; he longs for us to depend on and trust him.

There is reason Jesus calls himself—in one of his many, many self-descriptions—the “bread of life,” the sustenance that takes us through our days—and not stingily. A page from Lauren Winner’s book Wearing God* comes to mind. She writes, “I once asked a circle of people from church, if Jesus is the ‘bread of life,’ what kind of bread is He? Not a one of them said, ‘He’s that small round wafer we use at Communion.’ I wrote down their answers. I think they make a good prayer:

a bagel

rye

toast with jam

morning glory muffins

chocolate tea bread

rosemary ciabatta

my grandmother’s sourdough

my grandmother’s challah

French toast

a crusty baguette

“This gorgeous list,” Winner writes, “expands our attention from the usual thought ‘if God is bread, then God meets my needs,’ to the category of delectation.” I might add, if God is “morning glory muffins”—which sound both delicious and beautiful—then he is “company bread,” meant to be shared. He is the challah made by your grandmother, a gift that begs you to gather others around your table and enjoy with you.

All—I’ll say it again, all—we have is gift and we must, as disciples, lose the stingy, grabbing mindset of the world that fears dependence and scarcity far more than it fears separation and estrangement. Mother Teresa told us “…we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Share your bread,

Learn belonging,

And discover the abundance of God.

 

 

 

The freedom of being a small character

flower close upI just finished Still by Lauren Winner, an author who rises higher on my favorite list every time I read another of her books. (Follow the link above to her Amazon page to see all of them.) Still is about what she calls a mid-faith crisis–the doubting, dull doldrums–and what still keeps her in the faith and allows her, ultimately, to remain still in it.

One of my freelance assignments right now is a week of devotions on the “walk humbly” portion of Micah 6:8, and I’ve been simmering in that phrase before I begin the actual writing. Perhaps that is why the quote below from Still caught my eye. Whatever the reason for my first attraction, I have returned to it several times since, and I want to share it with you. If you are wondering this day about the specific purpose of your life; if you have thought “What am I doing?”; if you’re struggling with your significance/success–or seeming lack of it; if you’re shamed by failure, this one’s for you.

“It turns out the Christian story is a good story in which to learn to fail. As the ethicist *Samuel Wells has written, some stories feature heroes and some stories feature saints and the difference between them matters: ‘Stories…told with…heroes at the centre of them…are told to laud the virtues of the heroes–for if the hero failed, all would be lost. By contrast, a saint can fail in a way that the hero can’t, because the failure of the saint reveals the forgiveness and the new possibilities made in God, and the saint is just a small character in a story that’s always fundamentally about God.'”**

That last line (emphasis mine) keeps grabbing me. A load rolls off when I sit with it. I sigh with relief and gratitude. Yes! I breathe, yes!

white flowersFather, you are the Playwright of the greatest story ever, and you’ve given me a role in it, a small but somehow still important role. This story is about You; it’s for you; it’s by You. I come to you now and ask that You would simply show me what You have for me today in this story. Help me to release the big story to You, to let Your capable pen write it. Help me to live into the part you have for me, one small scene at a time. Give me great joy in doing my best for You. Remind me that You empower me to live out my role. May my bit part–and all our parts collectively–glorify You.

Just on a whim, I did a search on the word “story” on Bible Gateway. I specifically chose The Message to search from because I thought it might use the word “story” in a symbolic sense as well as in a literal one. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but I found some beautiful, arresting passages. I’ve included some of them below.

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons? ***Matthew 23:23-24

[ Trusting God ] So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into this new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.” ***Romans 4:1-3

I’ve preached you to the whole congregation,
    I’ve kept back nothing, God—you know that.
I didn’t keep the news of your ways
    a secret, didn’t keep it to myself.
I told it all, how dependable you are, how thorough.
    I didn’t hold back pieces of love and truth
For myself alone. I told it all,
    let the congregation know the whole story. ***Psalm 40:9-10

*The Samuel Wells link leads to a piece he wrote for The Christian Century about Bonhoeffer. It doesn’t link specifically to this topic, but it’s a really good read and what he wrote near the end of the article about Bonhoeffer’s assumptions about his own life’s “success” really do flesh out the quote above (which is not from that article).

**The quote is linked to the specific page it can be found on in the book God’s Advocates: Christian Thinkers in Conversation. It’s a Google book, so the entire thing is available for reading on that page.

***The Scripture links lead to a parallel versions (Message, NIV, Amplified) of that passage, allowing you to see other translations alongside Peterson’s work.