In Sunday School recently, my kids learned about the manna that the Lord provided for the children of Israel while they wandered the wilderness (Exodus 16). They got to glue puffed rice “manna” to their coloring pages and got to gather this same manna into cups to enjoy as a snack. I noticed that my son had not one, but two cups full of manna, and I gently scolded him for taking more than he needed—which was exactly what the children of Israel were told NOT to do. He grinned at me and said, “But I’m pretending tomorrow is the Sabbath. That means I had to gather twice as much.” Clever kiddo.
This sweet and somewhat silly interaction with my son reminded me of my personal struggles with excess. I have serious FOMO (fear of missing out) when it comes to a number of opportunities. Sales are one example. I can’t stand missing a good deal. I also struggle with eating more than I need. I don’t just have a sweet tooth—I have a mouthful of sweet teeth. I also tend to pile too much on my plate in a more figurative sense: sometimes I have a really hard time saying “no” to things I want (or believe I need) to do.
I think this is a normal pitfall for a lot of us. After all, the Lord urges us to pursue a life of use. That often translates to a desire to jump on any service project that comes along. The school play needs costumes? I’ll make them! A working parent needs help with child care? Add your kid to my zoo—the more the merrier! My local congregation needs after-church refreshments? I can make cookies! Life offers so many chances to help our neighbors—but we simply can’t juggle all of them single or even double-handedly.
To be clear, an eagerness to embrace opportunities to be useful is wonderful, but sometimes we gather too many opportunities at once and then can’t perform any of our uses to the best of our abilities. We’re no good to anyone when we’re stressed and overwhelmed. This is akin to excess manna rotting and stinking when the children of Israel were greedy and gathered too much. Sure, it isn’t greedy or wrong to want to be useful, but it’s important to remember that we are only one person and that we can’t fix all the problems of the world on our own. In fact, we can’t do anything at all without the Lord’s unfaltering guidance. Maybe, just maybe, taking on too much is a little like believing we are demi-gods. The truth is, we have limits.
Recognizing our limits and identifying what we really need in order to be happy and useful people pretty much sums up regeneration. What we need is balance. I repeatedly pray for help achieving balance in my life. Usually, I ask the Lord to help me balance being a wife and mother along with my endless list of chores. Sometimes it seems like I can’t even manage those three things. But even in the most mundane to-dos, the Lord is there, nudging me along toward a more peaceful path.
When I recognize my limits, I remember to pray for what I need to feel truly useful in my life: I ask for patience as I struggle with wanting to do more—more for my family, my church, my community, myself. I ask for guidance in prioritizing what matters most and for peace in letting go of what I can’t take on right now. I ask for humility as I accept that I can’t do everything.
And I ask for faith—for the belief that the uses I do serve really matter. I pray for my daily bread, not a lifetime supply all at once. The Lord knows what I can stomach.
Then the children of Israel… gathered [manna], some more, some less. So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack. Every man had gathered according to each one’s need. (Exodus 16:17-18)