How Do We Live In This Wilderness?

How Do We Live In This Wilderness?

You’re not you when you are hungry.

That’s the line from the Snickers candy bar commercials. That ad campaign has been a great success around the world. Because everyone, everywhere can relate.

When we are hungry, we are not ourselves. The Snickers commercials portray what we become when we don’t get enough to eat. Demanding divas. Grouchy gremlins. Crazed coaches. Feisty fighters.

If our identity completely changes with a blood sugar shift that can be resolved by a candy bar, we can begin to empathize with the attitude of the Israelites. Nearly two months had passed since the people had left Egypt. Now, every crumb of that unleavened bread they hurriedly pack up is gone, and the roasted lamb is only a memory. There’s not even a peanut from an old candy bar to be found at the bottom of the bag.

God’s response to God’s hangry people isn’t to fill up their backpacks and tent shelves with everything they could possibly need for the next forty years. There, in the wilderness, the promise of God is enough for one day.

The prayer of Jesus, Give us this day our daily bread, probably has roots in this wilderness experience. Jesus taught us to pray for one day’s supply of bread, provided one day at a time. And like the Israelites in the Sinai, Jesus wanted us to receive not just what we need, but what we all need. Give us this day our daily bread has us praying not just for you and me, but for all God’s children – including those who take too much and those who get too little.

Who are we when we are hungry – not just for a Snickers bar – but hungry like we’ve been on a long journey in the wilderness?  We are finding out.

We are in a wilderness, a wild and desolate place as a culture. We have been called out of the past into this new place, the future that was supposed to be filled with growth, hope, equality, and security. We have arrived only to find we are unprepared and it has not brought out the best in us.

We are in a wilderness that is filled with danger and loss. A wilderness in which people are gunned down one month because of their race, in another month because of their sexual orientation, and last week for a reason the killer never communicated. We are in a desert place in which each mass shooting causes a spike in gun sales. A desolate landscape in which a young adult reassures her parents not to worry because she and her friends always make an escape plan when they go to a public venue.

We seem to have arrived here in the future, without sufficient supplies to keep ourselves together. We share few common values and those we do share tend to be the very ones that isolate us from each other. We find it hard to listen to unless what is being said is what we’ve already said because it’s what we already believe. We judge one another instantly based on everything from a home address, to dress, to religious or political affiliation. Bipartisanship has become a dirty word. Our resources for surviving in this new place seem to be comprised of finger pointing, name calling, stereotyping and a growing willingness to accept violence as a price of freedom.

When we are hungry, we are not ourselves. And like the people of Israel, this wilderness experience has led us to murmur and complain and foment and blame.

What are we to do now that we are here in this place? This place we wanted to come to but on arriving find ourselves hungry, angry and afraid?

First, we must acknowledge what does not help.

There is little value in looking back. Remembering where we came from – knowing our history, recalling the bondage of the past – that is essential, or we will forget what we were hoping to find here in the future. But, looking back with longing, wishing for the past to rise again, reminiscing about the good ole days without remembering that there was a heavy cost to those fleshpots will only cause us to linger longer in this maddening no man’s wilderness.

Complaining about how hungry and angry and afraid we are in the wilderness is understandable. Complaining about what we had to leave behind, the dangers of the present and who is to blame for our predicament is counterproductive and chaotic.

What we need to do is remember why we are here. God has brought us to this day to be a community. Our God is a God of relationships. From Genesis to Jesus, God is about creating – not just families – but the family of God. Just like the Israelites in the wilderness, God has brought us here to be a community for one another and for all people.

If we are going to survive and even thrive in this wilderness, we need to receive what God offers to us. It comes to us – fresh every morning. Grace. Mercy. Manna. The bread of heaven that is sweet to the tongue, filled with life and always new. It is every blessing. Every strength. Every understanding. It is the presence of Jesus. It is the Holy Spirit moving in us and among us. It is our daily bread.

Here, in the wilderness, we need to notice that we have enough. God gives us enough to satisfy and sustain us. It may not be a lot. It may not be exactly what we thought we wanted. But it is enough.

It doesn’t do any good to try to scoop up and hide away more than we need. The Israelites soon discovered that when we take more than we need it just rots and is filled with worms, so why take what you can’t use? Whether we are talking about God’s mercy, or our daily bread, or our worldly goods – we really can’t make use of more than we need, anyway. What we need is enough, and that is what God gives us.

In the community of the wilderness, we need to make sure that no one gets less than enough.

I suppose it is possible that in the wilderness of Sinai every household had a plate of manna and a pot of quail that miraculously filled no matter how little they had gathered.

But what a greater miracle it must have been if – there in the wilderness – if the Israelites made sure that everyone had enough because they acted like a community. Perhaps the hail and hearty noticed an elder, in the evening light, not quick enough to grab a rascally quail. Perhaps in the morning sun, they saw a mother, so distracted by her band of children, she cannot gather everything they need. Perhaps the nimble tipped a plucked bird into someone else’s pot. Perhaps those who were able shifted some manna from their basket into anothers.

In the wilderness, the smallest gesture can be helpful. Sharing a quail leg you like the best. Washing out the pot without being asked. Ignoring the knowledge that last night your neighbors had to toss out a mess of worms. Not complaining about having a bread – however sweet – for breakfast once again. All these small acts of concern, love, sharing, and dignity create community.

Sometimes though, making sure that others have what they need can be costly. There are real dangers in the wilderness. Beasts, marauders, climate, and empires pose great threats. If we seek only to save ourselves and those with whom we share a common tent, we may save ourselves, but community – our common life – is lost.

In the dreadful wilderness of Las Vegas last Sunday night, there were those who gave others what they needed that day. They did it in many small gestures – giving encouragement and strength. And they did it great offerings of self-giving protection and care. One man had the chance to escape, but his friend had been shot, and so he stayed, where he was out in the open “My first thoughts were for my buddy” he says “I wanted to make sure he was taken care of.” Two women marvel that a man they had never met shielded them from the gunfire with his bloody body. They still don’t know if he survived. Vanessa ran for cover and then – a nurse – she knew she had to return and care for others. She found herself in the midst of doctors, nurses, first responders, Good Samaritans, all trying to make sure people got what they needed that night. “It was completely horrible” Vanessa remembers “but it was absolutely amazing to see all those people come together.”

This is how we live in the wilderness of our world. We receive what is given by God fresh every morning, and we make certain everyone has enough.

We receive our daily bread and remember it is our daily bread, not just mine or yours.

We look about for what needs to be done, so everyone has enough. We build a ramp so a 100-year-old woman can stay in her house. We clean library shelves or donated clothing so young and old can learn and grow. We write letters.  Call our congressmen. We carry signs, and we collect money. We pack buckets to send to disasters, craft cards to send to the sick, and paint murals to brighten a day. Small gestures that connect us one to another and just may give someone enough for the day.

And we pray, that if the day comes, we will run into danger for someone else, shield the innocent, hold the battered bodies, lay down our lives, risk it all. We pray we do the Christlike thing, which – like Jesus – brings life out of death and desolation.

We don’t have to be hungry. We don’t have to be anyone but the family of God. God provides for us what we need, fresh every morning. We have enough. There is enough for all.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *