Have you ever crossed the border between Mexico and America? The odd few miles waiting in lines to get back and forth from each country is like it’s own country that is neither Mexico or America, it’s the land in between. It’s a wonderful mix of churros, and last supper paintings for sale on the side of the road as you wait to give your passport to the border patrol and let them search your vehicle.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”Exodus 16: 4-5
Many years ago I took a trip with some people from my church, we were bringing clothes to an orphanage in Mexico. We had gathered clothes from people in our church and stacked them in the bed of a truck, ready to bring to kids who needed them. When we arrived at the border the Mexican authorities did not want us to enter the country with the clothes. Apparently they were worried about disease in the clothes, or maybe they just wanted an under the table tax. Whatever the case, they opened up a large gate and sent us to the other line that was headed back to America. As we approached the border crossing to come back into America and we told them our story, they made us pull over to the side to search our vehicle for drugs. Here I was trying to help people, but I was stuck in the land in between. Frustrated and mad because I spent a full day waiting in lines and being searched like I was a common criminal was unfair at best.
I was reminded about the Israelites in the desert. They had done nothing wrong, they had followed the rules. Yet, God made them wander in the desert, in the land in between their past oppression, and their future hope, for 40 years. They ate Manna and struggled, one step in front of the other, day after day, waiting and watching for signs of the promised land. Like a young couple trying to get pregnant, and the hope that comes from the thought of a new life and creation, only to find themselves in tears because this was not the month or the time. They long for a family in a way the Israelites longed for the promise land. It was more than a land of milk and honey, but a place where as a people and as individuals they would be as God made them. They would be in perfect step with all God created in the universe.
The roller coaster of expectations and let downs for the Israelites and all of us, as we trudge through the land in between, is emotionally exhausting. But what came from the time in the desert? It gave us the 10 commandments, it solidified the DNA and culture of the Israelites as a people. Embedded deep in this culture of a people was a plan for the savior of the world. If they only knew what God was doing? If they could see the future, if they could look ahead and hear the prophets that would come from their lineage give breath to the age when the messiah would come, if they could look across time and see the fulfillment in perfect time and order of the fulfillment of the messiah, if they could see a young man reading their story from the book of Exodus and connecting with them thousands of years later, then maybe they would realize it was never about the promise land. If they could see the entirety of history and future the way God sees it maybe they could not handle it. I can see God sarcastically saying to them “You can’t handle the Truth” in the same way Jack Nicholson made famous in a Few Good Men. Maybe it it would be Information overload. God had a plan bigger than the promise land. A plan for all mankind. What they were forced to see was the provision God gave everyday. It was the only thing in front of them as they took each step. It’s was the only thing they had to cling to. 40 years of God asking them day by day minute by minute to surrender everything to the loving Father. More than anything it gave millions of people the chance to trust God fully. To completely surrender their uttermost desire, and need to God. Everyday without fail God would provide food and water. I’m sure the first few months of the wandering was stressful, then it gives way to a peace and comfort and trust in the Almighty. I’m sure many were tired of the manna, but I’m sure there were quiet moments under the stars when they would look up and hold that piece of manna in hand and feel the provision of the the God of creation. When I go outside I am reminded that I look at the same stars the Israelites looked at. I stand in the same place as the Israelites begging for the promise land, longing to be whole, struggling to surrender my will and life to the creator. With the shrapnel of life that is embedded into my flesh as painful reminders that life is not fair or easy, I raise my outstretched hands to the stars waiting for the manna to come.
I find comfort in the surrender to the God of all creation, the God of the heavens and earth that says I’m going to give you everything you need. The same God has a bigger plan than my dreams, and my perceived needs. I probably can’t handle the truth if I’m honest. But in our frail existence we need to know at the core that He has a plan bigger than our trudging through the desert and eating manna. If we cant know at the center of our being that God has a bigger plan, its the beginning of a loss of hope. That loss of hope then leads to either hope in ourselves, and our own abilities or worse a complete loss of hope all together.
I can trust God in the land in between, because I have to. It’s necessary to the journey. I believe the things that come from this time in my life and yours are the things God intended for me, and for you. It’s where we see God in his fullness like the prophets had visions of. There is something sacred about the sweet surrender to our savior that gives way to clarity of everything, at the same time brings an awe of the majesty.
So grab a handful of manna and go look at the stars and trust God. When I write a simple statement like this I know there is so much more than just trusting God, but he can handle all of your fears, frustrations, and boredom. He may use these times for bigger and brighter things than we can see right now. It’s a mystery and it’s what makes God, God, and humans his beloved children.
Embracing the land in between is not a skill, it’s not something we write out in clever PowerPoint on how to thrive in tough times, rather it’s a holy connection to the God of creation and the story he has been telling for thousands of years. It is something we have to do and sometimes we can’t even talk about it. I hate the land in between, but I can’t deny it’s place in my life and the story of redemption that weaves its way through human history. Standing with our toes in the hard hot sand of the desert, in the land in between our past and our promise land is where God speaks, and gives his blessing to the refining of our souls for the Glory of God, and ultimately to accomplish his great, and mysterious plan for the world.