Always, somehow- wandering.
Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. The months flow into quiet years, of somber feet and screaming mind. The desert stretches on with its crippling expanse; the horizon keeps itself, always, annoyingly out of reach. The way often feels uncertain and the path unclear.
I am waiting to arrive.
I shut my eyes and can feel the empty spaces- the banging, clanging desires of my heart that are too noisy to ignore and too vaporous to catch. I shut my eyes and clench them. I’m afraid that if I open them to blink, I will see my heart’s deepest longings being lived out by others. I whine as a thankless Israelite after God has split open rocks for water, and water for dry ground. The parallel is uncanny: God is the one leading us both, and it is us both who have grown tired and ungrateful.
I laugh, for I have scoffed at the doubtful nature of God’s chosen race. I have scorned His peoples’ forgetful nature, their questioning hearts. And yet, when it comes down to it: we are one and the same.
I have not yet learned to walk the wandering years with confidence. Like the Israelites, I too am quick to dismiss God’s Promises. I am swift to discard His faithful nature, too eager to cast off His goodness. Blinded by trial and idolatry, my vision turns inward and downward. It tunnels until I see no longer the hand which gently leads, through rocky paths and thick briers, to the land of milk and honey.
Oh, how He has never left.
If only we had the senses to taste and see that He is good. If only the senses, refined enough, could detect His sweetness even in the wandering.
There’s a piece of history remembered in Exodus sixteen, a tale of old, dipped and drenched in God’s subtle sweetness. We read a story of God’s faithfulness to his wandering people, accented only by their grumbling hearts and obtuse minds. God has shown them wonder upon wonder; He has carried them through storms of locust and led them by tender hand and mighty arm through waves of sea split clean in half.
And they find themselves in the desert. After it all, after every glorious miracle, they have ended up here. Hostages to a foreign land once more, their complaints arise, their grumblings fly to the heavens.
“If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
The Israelites proclaim that they would rather have stayed in Egypt, trapped under a yolk of slavery, but where food was plentiful. Their wanderings have left them hungry and exposed, vulnerable to the hand of their mighty God. Blinded by circumstance, they desire to return to the familiar; they cannot see how this journey they are on is intended to lead them to their Promised Land. A land of true freedom and wealth.
We hunger, but we hunger for the wrong things.
Forgive us, Lord.
Yet when we grumble, God blesses.
“The LORD said to Moses, ‘I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.””
Manna, bread raining from heaven, falling as soft dew on scorched sands. Covering the desert floor, a holy gift. Manna, white like coriander seed and tasting like wafers made with honey. “Manna”, sounding in Hebrew like, “What is it?”- an unrecognizable provision. Manna, a blessing in disguise, an incognito sweetness. Subtle and good, able to sustain.
As God’s people, we are small minded at best and ungrateful at worst; blind to His greater purposes and embarrassingly ignorant of the story He is writing on our lives. This tapestry He is weaving- we are the golden threads that reflect His promises, a million brilliant works of redemption. Over and under, in and out. We think He has forgotten the way; His hand never drops the spool. The wandering years are but a preparation for what is yet to come, a glory too curious and wonderful to behold in our present state. The journey is for our good. In the weaving and in the wandering be assured: He is doing magnificent works in, through, and for His beloved. He is doing infinitely more than meets the eye, and more than our present circumstances reveal.
“They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God; they said, ‘Can God really spread a table in the wilderness?’
True, He struck the rock, and water gushed out…”
The One who breaks streams of living water from stony cliffs is doing the same to your heart, your life. And the manna that sustains is also sweet.