The desert. Hot, dry, desolate, stretching in seemingly endless, shifting dunes. Hunger and thirst in a sad place offering neither food nor water. A metaphor for times of trouble, but how much of a metaphor is it really?
It is true that, when life takes a difficult turn, when problems or illness or disappointment loom large, I feel like I am alone in a vast place of desolation, a place much like I imagine the Sahara. My throat dries, my skin burns, and panic can begin to descend. You call these times of testing.
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.--Deuteronomy 8:2
But then You did something else...
He humbled you, causing you to hunger, then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.--Deuteronomy 8:3
You fed your children. You rained down food they had never seen, sweet flakes of bread like honey. You took them to a place that bore no food of its own and gave them food they could not mistake for something they had made themselves. No sweat from their own brows planted or gathered it. No scythe reaped it and no mill ground it. Manna just fell and lay there for them. And you didn't drop it in great hunks, to pick up in a moment, but tiny flakes, like snow, so that the gathering took time, time to think about its source. Manna was food, but it also brought humility.
And all of this happened in the desert. Flakes fell like sweet words from Your mouth. "Gather me," You were telling them. "Eat and know that I am God." The heat and desolation never relented, but You came as morsels of sustenance every day. The desert magnified Your people's perpetual condition, a condition I share. The unadorned landscapes of desert or strife bring you into crisp focus. They hold nothing beautiful but You, no comfort but Your company.
My sustenance still falls from heaven. When I prop up my world with what I seem to have made or have done, it falls onto hot sand and disintegrates. Then You again drop your perfect manna. The bread is real. I eat it I am humbled, but restored.