M any things I discovered during the brief period I read for a living still nourish me. One of them is the idea which appeared in my journal one day that every day brings one new thing. This productivity tip may seem a bit counter-intuitive. But more is not necessarily better.
At the time I was going through a lot of change. To someone who has always been driven to find answers, letting the wisdom for major life decisions play out in small daily doses is both revelation and annoyance. Perhaps this is even more true now, as our device dopamine hits come in fifteen, five or one-minute waves.
“One new thing a day” is intriguing advice, but I at first didn’t really comprehend its implications. Was it a tactical suggestion to chill out? To look for big answers in sequential doses? To yield and learn a bit about becoming a better person?
I decided to look up the story about manna, the daily sustenance God provides the Israelites – I’ll call them the humans – in the wilderness. (It’s in Exodus 16.)
The most remarkable miracles may seem the most ordinary.
God’s people were a place of paucity after a promise of abundance. They complained about it, too: “God, did you bring us out here to starve us to death?”
So God answered, “I’m going to make bread rain down from the sky for you. The people will go out each day and gather just enough for that day.” And then Moses added, “In the morning you will see the Lord’s glorious presence, because your complaints against the Lord have been heard.”
Sure enough, the bread came, thin like frost on the ground, white, made with coriander, and tasting like honey wafers. It was only there a short while each day, until the sun melted it away. The humans had to go retrieve it.
The appearance was a miracle, but probably only for a day or two. After that it became routine – ordinary.
Like humans do, they broke the rules. First they hoarded it, and it rotted. Then, while God had instructed them to get a second portion to cover for the Sabbath, they took baskets out to the field on the Sabbath anyway. (The fields were empty.)
God got annoyed at their stubbornness, but continued to supply their needs anyway. This goes on for generations.
Things that are best for us are best distributed to us in thin doses.
A couple of lines in the story stood out. One is the humans’ first reaction to the manna. When they saw it, they didn’t understand what was happening. They said to each other, “What is it?” They didn’t recognize God’s provision. We receive daily doses of provision and blessing, but how often do we miss this ordinary miracle because we’re looking for a big powerball payout?
The second comes later, when the story reads, “Everyone collected just as much as they could eat.” They didn’t get enough to hoard – just enough to use. Maybe little doses of wisdom are what God puts in place because he knows us humans. We’re like the Israelites. We’re seasoned at angst, fear, confusion, and hoarding.
Perhaps the ordinary revelation is God’s way of keeping us trained. Like the Israelites, we often don’t recognize wisdom at first, and then, we can’t handle too much of it.
The things that are best for us are best distributed to us in thin doses.
Don’t be afraid to receive each day’s surprise.
I tried sharing this personal revelation with one or two people, but they kind of just looked at me like I was suggesting snow comes in the winter. After a couple of such occasions, I decided my concept was personal and related to the specific context of my situation, so I quit sharing it, and then eventually quit thinking about it.
The other night I picked up Henri Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey. It’s structured as a daily set of prayerful reflections, over the course of one year. It is full of wisdom, the apogee of a life of seeking after the heart of God.
As I opened it, lo and behold, on day one, Nouwen writes,
Every day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy.Henri Nouwen
One new surprise a day. If that’s true, what have I been doing lately? How many times have I let the day’s new surprise go unattended while looking for the next big thing, like a child who runs right past an Easter egg because she’s looking for a bigger one? How many days have I forgotten to look at all?
My prayer is that as I think about the coming year, I am aware enough to discover God’s spiritual manna, the one new surprise of the day, hidden in plain view for the one who seeks.