“But with their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!'” -Numbers 21:4-5
I read this verse one day a few weeks ago when I was still smack dab in the middle of my typical first trimester all-day and all-night nausea and exhaustion. I was still struggling a little to be happy about this new baby. I was still struggling not to feel sorry for myself all the time. I had lost my temper multiple times that morning with all three of my big kids, plus the dog (that I ended up giving back a couple weeks later).
And this, this embarrassing description of the ungrateful, shameless, complaining Israelites, was the “Bible verse of the day” that came up on the app on my phone. (And hadn’t I indulged just a little in congratulating myself that I was actually up to reading my little Scripture of the day?)
God was more gentle with me that day than I was with myself. First of all, I had already taken my short daily nap (why yes, I do usually get to nap almost every day…and I guess that’s kind of amazing) during my children’s after-lunch rest time (which is usually a couple of hours a day…and yes I know that’s pretty nice). And I had enough quiet time that particular day left over to grudgingly take out my phone and reach out to God in my self-centered wretchedness. Oh, and my sister was coming over that afternoon to help with the kids for a couple of hours.
My first thought when I read that Scripture passage was one of judgment. How whiny and ungrateful those Israelites were!
But then…the punch in the gut. I was just like them. So dramatic. Wallowing in my own discomfort even while I feasted on God’s provision. A nap. Kids on a great routine. My sister coming over to help.
“Have you brought us out here to die?” The Israelites accuse Him. No. The Israelites weren’t going to die. And I wasn’t going to die. The fact is that we were alike because both of us were being asked to be uncomfortable for a while. And we both just didn’t like how God was providing for us. It wasn’t enough.
Shame on us. After ten plagues to strike fear in the heart of any human being (except for Pharaoh, apparently). After parting the waters of the Red Sea. After making food appear out of the sky. How quickly we forget the power and mercies of God.
Maybe the Israelites were hoping for a banquet. Maybe they expected a fancy dinner every night to reward them for all those years of trusting God, for sticking to their Jewish roots in the middle of Egypt, for following Him out into the unknown. And maybe subconsciously I had been hoping for a pat on the back for all this trying-to-live-a-good-Christian-life stuff. Heck, all this openness to life stuff. A Heavenly great job, guys. We’re all so impressed with you up here. So…surprise! We’re bumping you up to First Class! Keep up the good work.
The thing is, all-out banquets every night probably isn’t the best idea for people on a journey. You have to stay lean, fit, and healthy to keep up on a long journey. Fat, comfortable people eating too much red meat and creme brulee wouldn’t travel so well. More importantly, I can imagine that delightful nightly quandaries such as “prime rib or filet mignon?” could slowly make them forget about what they’re traveling toward in the first place…and how far they’ve come.
Manna seems to have its place, doesn’t it?
It’s easy to write all of this now. When I am feeling so much better, secure for a time in the glory of those few weeks in the second trimester before I start to wake up three times a night to pee, and my round ligaments start to ache all day, and I start waddling more than walking, and the random nights of insomnia begin. My sincere prayer is that when the struggles of the coming months (and beyond, don’t you know) arrive, I’ll be more patient and more grateful.
Maybe that’s all part of the spiritual life. To learn from one tough season so that we walk just a little more faithfully and trustingly through the next. Or in my case, to look back and force myself to remember that I have walked through the deserts of four pregnancies already, and God hasn’t led me in the desert to die yet. At least not physically.
And isn’t that the kicker? 🙂