Lesson 4: Sabbath and Surrender
The story of God’s gift of manna in the wilderness is hard to swallow. The people of Israel are longing for the food they had in Egypt. God responds to their understandable complaints by raining down manna, an unknown nutritional substance. The what and where of it raises questions like, “What is manna?” “Where did it come from?” The “why” of the story, however, is clear. God wants the people to learn to depend on God for what they need, trusting God will provide.
Trusting God for our daily bread does not come easily to us. For many of us, the problem is not lack of bread but too much of everything. The United States has the highest obesity rate in the world. We eat too much, exercise too little and consume way too much salt, sugar and fat. Food is one of our addictions. We eat to deaden our feelings and fill a void that is probably spiritual, not physical.
Granted, the pandemic increased hunger in America with 20% of children living without enough food. The safety net of school breakfasts and lunches was gone.
Our addiction to food mirrors our addiction to having too much stuff. The United States has 4% of the world’s population yet we consume 17% of the world’s fuel and 30% of the world’s paper. Like the clothes in my closet, we own more stuff than we will ever use, storing it in our garages, attics, basements and work sheds. We tell ourselves we will wear those clothes when we lose weight or use those tools when we finally get around to that project.
To surrender our stuff can refresh us. One friend and her husband radically downsized their home and possessions. They gave away items, donated them and threw out what was not useful. They got down to only what they would need in a small apartment. It became a spiritual experience for her. Her spirit became lighter week by week as things went out the door. It was also a gift to their children that their household goods were sorted before they died.
Marie Kondō has a book and a television show entitled, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” Kondō’s premise is that what we want to own is actually the question of how we want to live our lives. She urges the reader to take out all of a particular item at one time — books, clothes, dishes. (Doing it a little at a time means we will never finish.) Kondō tells us to hold each item and ask ourselves, “Does this spark joy?” Instead of feeling deprived, we end up with things that feed our soul.
To go further, Christians can ask how we can live more simply so that others can simply live. How do we stop buying more stuff so we can reduce the pollution of our environment, the heating of the planet, and free up funds to help people who live on only a few dollars a day?
A small step to living more simply is to unhook from greed one day each week. Dorothy Bass, in her book Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time, talks about her family’s decision to not shop on Sundays. One Sunday, her daughter wanted to go to the mall with friends. Bass said, “No.” Her daughter exclaimed, “But I won’t buy anything!” The answer was still, “No.” Her daughter stormed off. Later, a conversation ensued. Bass asked how her daughter how she felt when she looked at the items in the stores. Her daughter confessed that it made her want new things. Bass asked how it might feel to people with little money. Her daughter admitted that it might make them feel sad. Since reading Bass’ book, I have stopped shopping on Sunday as a means of honoring God and curbing my greed.
Our greed can also be curbed by examining real need. Though extreme poverty has declined significantly, nearly 8.6% of the world, or 674 million people, live in extreme poverty. According to the September 2022 Global Poverty Update from the World Bank, these people live on an average of $2.15 a day. Of the world’s population, 62% live on $10 a day or less.
We can make a difference. Go the Presbyterian Hunger Program website to see how our gifts can help people who have next to nothing. The price of a nice blouse can buy chickens so a family can have a reliable source of protein. Contributing $50 can help build a well or a latrine.
The story of the manna given to the people in the wilderness is a lesson about trusting God to provide. God also urges us to be the answer to other peoples’ prayers.
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