Editor’s Note: Beloved Meridian author Darla Isackson passed away. We will continue to share her wonderful insights here periodically.
Cover image via YouTube.
When I was in my late thirties, I sat in a gospel doctrine class and offered an impudent, although sincere prayer. Our new course of study for the year was the Old Testament, which I was not keen on. With the exception of the old familiar stories and a few special verses, I had always found the Old Testament difficult to understand and tedious. In certain passages it even seemed to be R-rated, which really put me off. “Father,” I prayed silently, “I love all the other books of scripture so much. Would it be all right if I concentrate on them and just slide over the Old Testament?” I tried to build a good case, mentally listing all the reasons I thought this was a good idea, thinking I could somehow talk the Lord into saying, “Yes” to my misguided prayer.
If I recall correctly, I was still engaged in that prayer when a member of the bishopric tapped me on the shoulder and beckoned me to follow him out of the class and down the hall, explaining that the bishop wanted to see me. I seated myself in the bishop’s office and he got right to the point. He said the Gospel Doctrine teacher was being released and he was extending the call to me to be the new Gospel Doctrine teacher, this year teaching the Old Testament. I shed a few tears and confessed what I’d been praying about. The bishop laughed and said he thought that was one of the quickest answers to prayer he’d ever heard of.
And so it began: my discovery of the importance of Old Testament truths (which of course simply correlate with and weave themselves into the strong fabric of the truths of all the other scriptures). I still find much of the Old Testament difficult and tend to favor the other scriptures. Nonetheless, I’ve had Moses, Caleb, Joshua, Elisha, Jonah, and so many more as traveling companions, and learned so much from them. After my son’s death, the Psalms were one of my great sources of comfort. And through the years, I’ve found many poignant personal lessons in the Old Testament, in spite of my continuing tendency to spend most of my scripture time in the other books.
An Insight from an Old Testament Story
My most recent ah hah! from the Old Testament began in a Sunday School class. The scripture we were studying was Numbers chapter 11, where the children of Israel are getting plain tired of manna and are whining for “flesh.” I took notice of how easy it was for me to see clearly the folly of these scriptural characters and say, “How could they be so foolish, and in this case so ungrateful?” Here the Lord was giving them an amazing miracle every day (and who wouldn’t love this particular miracle?). They were being given food that required no plowing, planting, tending, harvesting, or labor-intensive preparation. They’d wake up in the morning and there was their food for the day, straight from the hand of the Lord. But were they feeling grateful? Anything but. They were so hungry for “flesh” to eat that they began to wish they had stayed in captivity in Egypt where they had some!
However, in that class I began “likening the scripture to myself” and became acutely aware of my own ingratitude. I have so many blessings that have come truly like manna from heaven, but I so often tend to want different blessings or more than I’ve got! It felt like a super-sized warning that I need a major attitude adjustment.
Applying the Story to Daily Life
The children of Israel wanted a different miracle and the Lord was displeased with their attitude, but gave them what they wanted: a miraculous appearance of thousands upon thousands of quail, two cubits deep for as far as a person could walk in a day on every side. However, getting exactly what they wanted did not serve them well. (See Numbers 11:33) I certainly don’t want to follow that pattern!
Still, I can see that in areas of my life where I experience an aching dissatisfaction, I am to some extent falling into the same trap as the children of Israel. I am getting manna, but I want meat. Consider the following personal examples and mentally add your own:
1. I have been blessed with an incredible family, but in my mind I sometimes whine (because of divorces and ex-spouses and problems here and there) that I really wanted a different, “intact” family more like the stake president’s seemingly “ideal” family.
2. I have recently experienced another answer to prayer, my own personal manna from heaven, in learning that part of my extreme weakness and chronic illness had to do with infected teeth. But the process needed to solve the problem has been a rather painful uncomfortable ordeal (and I don’t like pain and discomfort!) and is requiring extended recovery time. I’ve whined at times that I didn’t get a different miracle.
3. I did the same thing when I learned that my poor stamina could be increased by avoiding all processed and refined food. This diet change proved to be so difficult in application that I called it “the blessed answer I didn’t want.” I’ve always avoided spending time in the kitchen, so making everything from scratch has been nothing short of a major trial. But following that course doubled my functional hours from 4 to 8 per day. But oh, the temptation to whine and wish I could have different, more comfortable and convenient miracle, different manna!
Gaining Perspective on the Manna We’ve Been Given
I suspect the Lord is never pleased when we disregard the manna He so freely gives us-the exact “food” we need to fill our daily requirements-and want something else instead. “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things . . .” (D&C 59:21). To me that means the Lord’s hand is manifested in the exact kind of manna we are receiving this very day, this very hour, and that we need to recognize it! Even when we are sick and tired of the same manna day after day, even if we feel like we’ve been wandering in the wilderness for years, we need to confess His hand in the circumstances of our lives and learn what He wants us to learn from it. This doesn’t mean we don’t try to improve things, only that we accept the things we can’t change. This also doesn’t mean that we blame God for uncomfortable consequences we may be experiencing from our own poor choices only that God is in the details of our lives and will help us learn and grow and benefit from every one of those details.
Verse 7 of that same D&C section 59 says, “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.
”All things. Surely this is the “higher law of gratitude.” The Lord is telling us that no matter how little we like the manna we are being given right now, we are to thank Him for it. I only find that possible by linking this commandment to thank God in all things with Romans 8:28 where we are told that, “All things work together for good to them that love God.”
The perspective of decades is enormously helpful to me when I allow it to be. I can see in retrospect that so many things I considered “bad” were really blessings. For example, in regard to certain experiences in my early life that I saw as rejections, I can now see that the Lord was protecting me, guiding, helping me toward the specific relationship experiences I needed to teach me what I needed to learn.
I’ve usually found it impossible to have that perspective when the hurt is fresh and I am in emotional pain. Sometimes I feel like I want to say to the Lord, “I don’t want another profound lesson, anyway, I just want things to turn out the way I thought they would!” The biggest lesson of all the Lord is trying to teach me is to say “Thy will be done” and surrender to the miracle of the manna I’ve been given.
Keeping Our Eyes on Our Own Manna
I received a deeper understanding of my need to focus on and appreciate my own manna blessings from Elder Holland’s conference talk called “The Laborers in the Vineyard.” When I originally heard the talk in April of 2012 I didn’t “catch” the full application to my own life. Shortly after my experience with the manna story in the Old Testament, however, I attended a Relief Society lesson based on that talk. This time around, the application of the parable of the laborers really got through to me and gave more power to my recent insight of the “manna” principle. I realized that one of the main reasons my “manna” doesn’t seem to be enough is because I’ve allowed a thought pattern to develop where I feel deprived when I see someone else receiving the very flavor or amount of manna I want and am not getting.
For instance, that very week I had “downed another quart of pickle juice” as Elder Holland put it, when I received a wedding announcement for one of my son’s cousins. Instead of rejoicing that this fine young man was taking a beautiful young woman to the temple to be his wife, I felt envy because it wasn’t my son (who is every bit as handsome, intelligent, and good, but is still single well into his thirties). What’s worse, I’ve been feeling that way every time I received a wedding announcement for some years! Whenever I envy what someone else is getting, the manna that characterizes my life just doesn’t seem to be enough. Just like the children of Israel, I’m not satisfied with manna, I want meat.
How many times do we undervalue the manna in our lives because we look around and compare our manna with someone else’s meat. Or maybe we are like the laborers who were chosen first who resent the fact that the laborer who was chosen last and only had to labor a short time is getting the same bounteous blessings of manna we are being given for laboring all the day long. (See Matthew 20) Either way, we sabotage our own happiness and do not incur the favor of God.
What’s the Solution?
Here are a few suggestions.
Consider Physical Factors
We may need to look at possible physical implications for a continuing tendency to focus on what we don’t have. Sometimes we may just need extra rest, or a good meal. Or our body may be low on vital nutrients and need supplementation. Calcium, Vitamin D3, 5HTP, and Sam-e are examples of supplements that can make a big difference to a person’s ability to keep a positive mindset. If none of those make a difference and the suggestions below do not seem to help you keep spiritually focused for more than the moment, you may need to be checked for hormone imbalances or clinical depression.
When You Find Yourself Thinking Covetous or Negative Thoughts, Stop It!
Follow President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s counsel in his April 2013 conference address, “The Merciful Shall Obtain Mercy”: Stop it! It might help to practice seeing a red STOP sign in your mind whenever you catch yourself in a “whining for meat” thought as opposed to a “grateful for manna” thought.
It’s not enough to stop the negative thought, however. We must replace the whining thought with a better thought. I like to memorize favorite scripture verses for this purpose, as well as the words of favorite songs. Then, when the envious, ungrateful thought pops up, I can replace it by singing in my mind something like, “The Lord is my light, the Lord is my strength; I know in his might, I’ll conquer at length.” (Hymns, 89) I especially like the words from that hymn because they remind me that being grateful for the manna I’ve got doesn’t mean I will never get meat. It means accepting the Lord’s timing and the Lord’s will.
Try a Gratitude Journal
Recording what we are grateful for is a way to, “Count your many blessings; name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” (Hymns, 241.) Gratitude is an uplifting, exalting attitude. We cannot be bitter, resentful, or mean-spirited when we are grateful. Gratitude means focusing on the manna God has given us and being grateful for it. We can still express our needs and desires to the Lord, but a focus on gratitude will help us avoid complaining, coveting, and yearning for different manna.
Make It Specific: Look for and Record Ways the Lord Has Blessed Your Life Today
You may want to try President Eyring’s Idea from his October 2007 conference address titled, O Remember, Remember. He said he became aware that he was supposed to record for his children to read, someday in the future, how he had seen the hand of God blessing their family. Here are some quotes from his talk: “Before I would write, I would ponder this question: Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?’ As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done. More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers.
I felt more gratitude for the softening and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. And I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance-even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened.”
Don’t Worry If You Aren’t Consistent: Start Again
I’ve started working on all these ideas over and over because I forget and have to be reminded to start again. That’s okay as long as we do start again. That’s what life is all about: starting again as many times as it takes. Getting up as many times as we fall. The goal is to become more and more manna-conscious, more and more gratitude-oriented, more and more in tune with scripture truths and how they apply to our daily lives. When we accomplish that, we begin to see the absolute marvel of the manna we’ve been given. Our eyes are able to see the real and evident miracles we may have been missing because “we see through a glass darkly.” (See 1 Corinthians 13:12)
Whenever I become aware that I’m falling back into the attitude that my manna isn’t enough, I can ask the Lord to help me start again to focus on gratitude, to stop my whining thoughts, and when possible, record ways I see the Lord’s hand in my life and in the lives of family members. When I don’t feel up to writing I can read what I’ve written before and be reminded by it. I can review scriptures verses that have before cheered and uplifted me and remember spiritual blessings all through my life.
Every day can be a new start. Every day we can pray yet again to recognize and be grateful the ever-present manna in our lives. We can pray for recognition that the manna we’ve been given IS enough for this day, this moment. And we can pray for faith to know that the exact kind of manna we need tomorrow will be forthcoming.
Author note: Do you know someone whose life has been impacted by the suicide of a loved one? The common pattern is to avoid the subject and avoid processing the grief, but there is a better way. Help them find “the peace that surpasses understanding” by pointing them to one of the following: If they are LDS, direct them to After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Faith to Go On. If they are not LDS, direct them to: Finding Hope while Grieving Suicide: Opening Your Heart to the Healing Only God Can Give. For more information go to my website.