I’m reading through the Pentateuch. There’s much that happens in these books, especially during the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land. The trip is action-packed, especially at the beginning. Consider the many memorable events: the crossing of the Red Sea, the miracle of manna, water from the rock, the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, and the Golden Calf incident. We tend to remember the high and low points, but for most of the forty years it took for the Israelites to reach Canaan, the days were probably pretty monotonous.
Put yourself in their place. Each day is nearly the same. Wake up. Gather manna. Check to see if the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle to indicate whether you were to pack up or stay put. Build a cooking fire. Prepare the manna for your next meal. Eat. Clean up. Prepare manna for your next meal. Eat. Clean up. Take a goat to the priest as a sin offering once you are convicted of your anger toward your brother. Change clothes. Go to sleep. Wake up and repeat. One day kind of blends into the next. Forty years = 14,600 days = 350,400 hours. That seems like a lot of monotony.
Is that your current experience in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic? Does one day feel like the next? If you’re like me, there have not been a lot of memorable events during the weeks of lock-down (assuming of course, you or a loved one has not been ill or you have not lost your job). Certainly, there have been few real high points. No face-to-face gathering of God’s people to celebrate Easter. No live graduation ceremony. No birthday or graduation parties. No dinner with friends. No smiling selfies in the midst of crowds in Bar Harbor, Maine during your annual family vacation. What we are left with, most often, is a succession of days that blur one into another. There’s not much that’s remarkable. Or is there? Are we just marking time until this pandemic ends? Were the Israelites just marking time until the first generation died off and the next could enter the Promised Land (where the real action was)?
That’s not God’s perspective on those years in the wilderness. Deuteronomy 8:2–3 says:
And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
The wilderness was a time to grow trust in the Lord’s care and provision. It was a time to grow in loving your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18). In the midst of unspectacular and often monotonous ways, God was at work. And he still is, in your lives, this very day.
What is God’s calling for you on this ordinary day? Perhaps it’s unbegrudgingly making breakfast for your kids. Or patiently dealing with an interruption as you try to work from home. Or confessing your sin when you were impatient in the midst of that interruption. Or spending hours on the phone trying to secure unemployment benefits. Or video chatting over dinner with a single friend who is home alone. Or walking the dog. Or doing the dishes. Or struggling through a time of prayer as your distracted and anxious mind flits from one challenge to another. Unspectacular and ordinary activities make up the bulk of our days with—or without—the coronavirus. Yet, these simple acts of faithfulness and love are the very places where God’s Spirit is at work conforming you to his image.
Do you realize that Jesus spent thirty, ordinary, largely undocumented years on earth, learning and practicing the trade of carpentry before his public ministry began? Thirty years = 10,950 days = 262,800 hours. That’s a lot of monotony, it seems. But he was not just marking time. These are the very years that he grew in wisdom and in favor with God (Luke 2:52), and prepared for his earthly ministry. These 10,950 ordinary days built incalculable benefit. And what was true for Jesus is no less true for us.
Writer Annie Dillard has said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” What you do this day matters whether it seems quite ordinary or not. Don’t “despise the day of small things” (Zech 4:10). Embrace the monotony of your particular wilderness this day, knowing that your God is purposefully at work in your life.