Recently, an unexpected tragedy took the lives of two teenage sisters in our community. It’s a nightmare no parent can imagine surviving. So, I find myself speechless in prayer. What feeble words can beg the mercy of a thousand angels? What heart cry can ease that kind of pain even for a moment?
If you struggle, as I do, for how to pray during times of tragedy or if you wonder how to respond, read on. There is an ancient story that has provided concrete and helpful advice. (Allow me to recap it quickly and then share how it has impacted me.)
About 1400 B.C., the Jewish people were escorted out of their homes in Egypt, across the Red Sea, into a desert. The circumstance was deliverance and their destination was a promised land “flowing with milk and honey”. Maybe you remember the flannel board from Sunday school? Picture a massive parade with thousands of God’s people who walk across the ginormous Red Sea on dry land. They are shoulder to shoulder, working together to get to the opposite shore.
But on other side of the miraculous crossing of the sea, they must cross a desert. The next part of the journey will require an entirely new way of life and will test their faith to the limit.
What strikes me about the story of the Jews Exodus is the way God feeds them. You can’t survive very long in a desert without food and the only supermarket or a drive-through are back in enemy territory. So it says that God made manna fall from the sky every day. When the people found the cracker like substance, under the morning dew, they asked “what is it?” Manna is the word for “what is it?” and that’s what they called it.
God’s instruction was that each person was to collect manna according to his/her portion every morning. Some collected much and others collected little, but everyone had enough. If someone didn’t eat the portion for that day thinking they could save it for tomorrow, it was spoiled by the next day. They ate manna for 40 years in the desert, until they reached the Promised Land.
No analogy is perfect and this one has shortcomings and irrelevant ideas if you try to use the whole exodus story. But the idea of manna is helping me pray. The idea that God’s provision is just enough.
When tragedy strikes, people are asked to walk through a raging sea that seems humanly impossible. They survive because God is with them and a multitude of friends walk by their side. Think of the hospital rooms, relief aid offices, and funeral homes that overflow with supporters during the immediate aftermath. But what happens when those people find themselves living in their ‘new normal’, the desert place waiting for a Promised Land?
The answer is Manna.
“How do grieving parents bury children?” Manna.
“How do widows and orphans get out of bed tomorrow?” Manna.
How does a war torn community start picking up one broken piece at a time? Manna.
“How will we survive whatever a broken world throws our way?” Manna.
God is in the business of meeting our exact needs. He isn’t a generic pre-portioned meal plan. I believe with everything I am that God will let provision rain freely, without holding back. But we must decide that it’s enough…for today. We must expect it, and look for it, and devour it…today. If we wait, we risk bitterness and certain death in our spirit.
So this is my prayer in tragedy, that hurting people will take God’s manna and know that it is enough for today. Enough to get out of bed. Enough to enjoy a cup of coffee. Enough to share a memory with a friend. I’m praying they will be nourished by “what is it?” when the manna looks different than they imagined.
I’m also praying that God will remind me to share desert life, and manna, with those who need it most. Small acts of kindness are the way we offer manna to others. Just like God provides strength and grace enough for one day at a time, so can we in small, regular doses.
We all live in this desert of a broken world. Unthinkable things happen. How will we survive? How will we pray? Manna.
For the full Exodus story: