When I was a kid, I used to read the post-Exodus stories about the Israelites complaining in the desert and think, “What idiots.” Didn’t they remember the ten plagues or crossing the Red Sea? Didn’t they eat the manna from heaven every single day? How could they forget? With all the self-assured spiritual confidence of the missionary kid I was, I knew that I would certainly never do such a thing.
Now I’m thirty years old, and I find myself identifying with the Israelites. Sometimes their complaints were legitimate, directly tied to biological necessities like food or water or not wanting to die battling giants. Yet I’m reminded that their attitude rather than their complaints seems to be what got them into trouble. Their needs may have been valid, but the way they expressed them wasn’t acceptable to God.
My wife, Abigail, and I just had our fourth child in our five years of marriage. The addition was going remarkably well. My mother-in-law stayed with us for a couple weeks while we got our bearings. Grandma left, and everything was going perfectly, or at least as perfectly as life with four children can go.
Then I started to get sick, along with all the children. Baby Lily stopped sleeping well (for a newborn) at night. Then my wife started having nursing complications and an intermittent fever, which caused her significant pain and basically put her out of commission.
So on Thursday morning I found myself praying (or perhaps accusing), “God, where is your faithfulness?” Still, I remembered the Israelites, and I decided I might be asking the wrong question, so I changed my prayer to, “Help me to see your faithfulness.” I also added, “Please don’t let me get called into work today.”
I work a contracted job where I’m basically on call all day Monday-Friday. I don’t know what any given day will look like, and my day can change in an instant. Still I didn’t get called in on Thursday, which was good because my wife couldn’t manage the older children. The same thing happened on Friday. Normally, this would cause a degree of financial nervousness for me, but my work Monday-Wednesday was so efficient and profitable that I already had the wiggle room. All of the sudden, I had the four day weekend that our family desperately needed without the financial blowback.
The weekend was still rough. There was more herding than nurturing. Our diet certainly offended my pseudo healthy sensibilities, and I guarantee that I did more yelling than was strictly necessary. Each night I was up late doing dishes or cleaning. So when Sunday night came, I was worried about Monday. I couldn’t miss work, but I didn’t know how Abigail would manage.
Monday: Abigail felt better, not fine but better, and a friend was bringing dinner. I left home, and ended up working ten hours.
Tuesday: my wife felt bad again, but I didn’t get called in until the children’s afternoon nap time. Basically, it was the best time for me to be absent.
Wednesday: Abigail still felt bad. Again I didn’t get called in until afternoon naptime.
Thursday: Still bad on the wife front. For the third day in a row, no calls until naptime. At this point, I told Abigail, “The way my work schedule is turning out this week isn’t random.”
Friday: Abigail felt better, and a friend was bringing dinner. I worked for about twelve hours straight and was able to make up the financial deficit from working partial days Tuesday-Thursday.
In essence, over a nine days stretch every day my wife felt her worst, I was around for all or part of the day, and every day she felt better, I was able work enough to make up for lost time.
Don’t misunderstand me; nothing about those nine days was fun. I would almost prefer to forget the whole experience, but in the midst of the struggle, I’ve seen God’s faithfulness. Nobody ever wants to wander in the desert wondering where the next meal will come from, but sometimes our need sets the stage for coming manna.