It’s summer and time for Vacation Bible School across the country. I recently taught a kindergarten class at our parish’s VBS, where the theme reinforced the lesson that in all circumstances “God is good.” When life is sad, when life is scary, when life is good…”God is good,” was the rallying cry for the children and adults participating. Being surrounded by the young people singing and praising God was a much-needed boost in faith for me and the other adults present. Children have a way of eliciting hope and joy, even in dark times. The message of God’s generous benevolence and care is one that resounds with them, but that can be difficult for us as adults to internalize.
Manna in the Desert
On one day of the week, the children were taught the story of God’s providence in sending down manna and quail in the desert to the hungry Israelites. Despite their ingratitude after being freed from slavery and their grumbling and complaining, God still responded with his signature compassion and mercy and provided food for the Israelites in their time of need to sustain them and increase their faith. “He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your ancestors, so you might know that it is not by bread alone that people live, but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deut 8:3) God kept his promise to support and care for the them. I was reminded of the times that we fall into complacency and ingratitude at all that God has done for us and end up complaining about the things we lack or the problems and challenges we face. It is so tempting to succumb to dissatisfaction and thanklessness when we face challenges, focusing on the negatives rather than all of the positives in our lives. One practice that can help us to be appreciative of what we have each day is to write a “gratitude list” highlighting all of the things we are grateful for. This can help keep our focus on the good, rather than the challenging circumstances.
Purpose in the Pain
Sometimes God does allow us to experience need, want, hunger and pain, both spiritual and physical so that we remember that we are dependent upon him for everything, rather than continue on in stubborn self-sufficiency. At times we reach a point where we call out to him in our need as our only hope, and it is then that he stoops down to comfort and console us. We can also remember that, in enduring hardship and difficulty, we walk the Way of the Cross with Our Lord and are purified from our weakness and selfishness. We become more like him. St. John of the Cross exhorts us to bear discomfort and need humbly and patiently: “Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.” Similarly, St. Isidore of Seville reminds us that the difficulties of this life, when borne patiently, will be rewarded later and in the next life: “The more we are afflicted in this world, the greater is our assurance in the next; the more we sorrow in the present, the greater will be our joy in the future.”
We Need God
How are we attempting to control our lives and steer our course without guidance and direction from God? Scripture exhorts us to turn to God for protection, help, and guidance, and not to depend only on ourselves and our human and material resources. In our wealthy society, it is easy to believe that we don’t need God, that we can handle things ourselves. It is important to be humble enough to believe that true happiness and peace can not be found apart from God, and that we need his strength and assistance. “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” (Augustine of Hippo, Confessions) The Psalms remind us to, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” (Psalm 55:22) Again, scripture tells us, “Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, so that he will lift you up in his own good time. Leave all your worries with him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7) We ask God to “give us this day our daily bread” each day when we pray the Lord’s Prayer; shouldn’t we expect that he will fulfill his promises to care for us as a loving and solicitous Father?