My Little Jar of Manna (part 1)

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February 4, 2013

As caregivers, we may find ourselves sitting across the room from a care receiver with some bizarre dysfunctional behaviors. They might make choices that leave us scratching our heads. You may minister to someone who chooses to stay in a relationship with someone who abuses them emotionally or physically. They may chronically injure themselves. They may deprive themselves of the necessities of life.

They might even eat maggots.

Back to the maggots in just a moment.

A good friend of HCM International, Dr. Donna Thomas, has a mantra, “All behavior has meaning.” Donna has reminded me many times that when I am left scratching my head about why a care receiver I am ministering to continues to choose a destructive behavior, I should look under the behavior to what drives it. It’s a good reminder for all of us.

Now back to the maggots.

In Exodus 16, the Israelites were embarking on the Exodus. It was a time of hope and joy as well as fear and anxiety. From the years of slavery to the events that led to their first steps out of Egypt, life was filled with a variety of trials. But they faced one more unforeseen trial. They were about to run out of food.

Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt. There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.  “If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”  (Exodus 16:1-3 NLT)

You may be familiar with the story. They complain, Moses went to God, and God made this miracle food called “What is it?” form on the ground. The people were once again filled with hope and joy. The only rule was that they could only collect enough for that day. Tomorrow there would be a whole new supply.

Pretty cut and dry, right? Go out and collect enough for today, and tomorrow God will provide another day’s worth. It sounds cut and dry to me. It also sounds like most of them followed God’s command, but apparently not all of them did. At least a few of them started collecting enough for today and tomorrow.

Then Moses told them, “Do not keep any of it until morning.” But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. Moses was very angry with them. (vv. 19-20)

Now why would they do that? Why are these people keeping the manna? It smells bad and has maggots. I’m left scratching my head.

Then I remember the phrase all “behavior has meaning.”

So I ask “why?” again, but this time I refrain from asking it in a condescending way. This time I ask the question truly seeking what could drive someone to this level of dysfunctional behavior. What level of emotional upheaval could drive you to (1) break a very clear command and (2) keep this stinky stuff around? And what experiences (or wounds) could cause that level of emotional upheaval?

That’s a question for next week. But for now, how can I let the fact that all behavior has meaning position me to minister from a place of grace and understanding? Instead of losing patience with a care receiver (or myself), can I stop and allow Jesus to speak into the situation and bring the light of truth so that the care receiver can be positioned for change? Also, can I allow myself that same level of grace in recognizing that the sinful and dysfunctional behaviors I choose have meaning as well.

Questions for reflection:

-          Do I have a care receiver that continues in a pattern of dysfunctional behaviors that leaves me scratching my head?

-          Do I have dysfunctional behaviors that leave me scratching my head?

-          Can I look underneath my own behavior to see the emotions that drive it and allow Jesus to meet me there? 

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