So did you get enough to eat on Thursday? Are you still full? Thanksgiving has a way of doing that, doesn’t it? There is so much to eat and it’s all good. Special dishes our families love, connected to sweet memories and time-worn traditions. We have to try at least some of everything. Soon we’re pushing back from the table, maybe regretting how much we ate, declaring that next year we’ll recognize when we’ve had enough.
This year at our house, I inadvertently changed our dessert tradition by accidentally making a coconut cream pie. I started out making a butterscotch pie, which is a tradition my mom started many years ago. But apparently, I wasn’t paying attention, and I used white sugar instead of brown sugar (which of course is what makes it a butterscotch pie). As I was stirring the filling, waiting for it to bubble, I realized my mistake. A cup of coconut solved the problem, though, and after that pie was done, I made the butterscotch pie I had intended to make in the first place. It all ended well—in fact, the kids liked it so much that we’ve increased our pie tradition by 33%. From now on, Thanksgiving dessert will be a three-pie affair.
Big holiday events like this often stay with us in thought for a while. We think over things that didn’t turn out so well (like a new recipe we weren’t crazy about or the mistake of leaving the dogs in the kitchen with the rest of the turkey). We might spend time remembering the wonderful moments that lifted our hearts—like big spontaneous hugs or the sound of the grandkids laughing in the next room. Those memories give us a way to get even more out of the moments we’ve had, re-experiencing feelings of blessing or maybe re-living the stirrings of stress.
Following this holiday when it’s normal to over-indulge, the idea for today’s message comes from a Jewish children’s song called Dayenu (Da-YAY-nu). The song is about history and faith and enoughness, about how we know when we’re blessed, and how to say thanks. Dayenu in Hebrew means “it would have been enough,” and in the 15 verses of the song, children sing about the many ways God has been with them, saying, “even if this is all you did and no more, it would have been enough.” For example, a few of the verses are
If he had split the sea for us, and had not taken us through it onto dry land, it would have been enough!
If he had taken us through the sea and had not drowned our oppressors, it would have been enough!
If he had drowned our oppressors, and had not supplied our needs in the desert for 40 years, it would have been enough!
If he had supplied our needs in the desert for 40 years, and had not fed us the manna, it would have been enough!
If he had fed us the manna, and had not given us the Shabbat, it would have been enough!
I love that refrain, it would have been enough. It’s like recognizing—maybe for the first time—that our lives are full of blessings. We stop and say, “Wow, thank you, God. This is really wonderful. Let me just sit here a moment and soak all this in. You’ve done so much for us. So much more than we could ever have asked.” That’s a place of fullness where there’s no more yearning, no more planning, no desiring, no unmet needs. Nothing is lacking; we have enough. What a feeling of satisfaction that must be. What if we could live in that place?
But human nature being what it is, we often don’t feel that kind of peace—we don’t feel full—because as soon as we get one thing done, one desire met, we’re on to the next. We eat something salty and now we crave something sweet. We get the job we wanted, and now we want a new car. We get back from one vacation and immediately start planning the next. It’s sometimes hard for us to just rest in that clear spot of satisfaction, to let ourselves feel full and happy and able to rest. Our minds are wired to stay in motion all the time we’re awake—that’s how we feel productive. That’s also why we need sleep.
After seminary, I did an additional two-year training in Gestalt therapy. Gestalt is a form of counseling that helps us focus on our experience of the present moment as a way to understand more about of what’s going on in our lives. As part of the training, they taught us about something called the contact-awareness cycle, which describes the steps we go through whenever we want something, large or small. Depending on our experiences in life, we may have developed interruptions in the natural cycle that cause us trouble when we try to get our wants and needs met. That’s where the counseling comes in Here’s just a little example to show you how this can apply to us feeling like we have enough.
There are six steps in the contact-awareness cycle: (1) sensation, (2) awareness, (3) mobilization of energy, (4) action, (5) contact, (6) satisfaction, and (7) withdrawal, or rest. Let’s say our stomach grumbles or we notice tightness in our neck or jaw—that’s sensation. We think, “Hmmm, I’m feeling a little hungry,” or “Gosh I must be stressed.” That’s awareness. Next we get an idea of what we could do about our hunger or stress. We think about making a peanut butter sandwich or taking a deep breath—that’s step 3, mobilizing our energy. What’s the next thing we do? We make the sandwich or take the breath. We take action. That’s step 4. The next step is where the need actually gets met. We eat the sandwich or we inhale fully. That’s what’s known in Gestalt as making contact. The need that started with a grumbling stomach has now been met and responded to successfully.
But here’s the part I really want to tell you about—step 6, the part I think we struggle with most of all—is satisfaction. Here we let ourselves feel the satisfaction of our need being met. Our stomachs are full. We’re happy. Our stress level has dropped. We’re relieved. We just feel that sense of fullness and rest there, not wanting another thing for a while (which, incidentally, is what the final step, withdrawal or rest, is all about).
But with our fast-paced, consumption-driven world, we are not encouraged to take the time to really feel satisfied. Think of the last time were able to just sit back and let a feeling of fullness and blessing really wash over you. Most of us fit our gratitude into quick little snippets of time and then we feel internal pressure to be heading off toward the next new thing. Marketers hope we’re thinking of the next new thing we want to buy.
In our Old Testament reading, the people were feeling anything but full and grateful. They were distressed and grumbling, sick and tired of the manna God had been providing for so long. Originally, they were glad to get it. God had promised to “rain bread from heaven” for them as they made their way through the desert, so they wouldn’t starve.
Now, however, grumbling had grown to a roar among the Jewish people. They doubted their leadership and felt angry they were having to do without. They asked each other, “Wasn’t life better when we had fish and meat to eat?” The mysterious manna that arrived with the morning dew no longer reminded them of God’s loving care. Instead of blessing, they saw it as deprivation, forcing them to live without the blessings they felt they needed for a happy life.
Moses heard the discontentment spreading throughout the people, and on the day that he heard them weeping about it at the doors of their tents, he had had enough. Moses took his upset to God, saying: “Why did you lay the burden of all these people on me? Where am I supposed to get meat to give to them? I am not able to carry all these people alone—it is too heavy for me.” He puts the whole ordeal directly into God’s lap.
I love what Moses does here. It is the best possible thing he could do. At the end of his rope, he takes his frustration, confusion, worry, and anger to God. He fusses, he fumes, he prays; he gives it to God in faith and trusts that God will bring about the right resolution. And God does.
In our New Testament story, Jesus’ disciples are concerned that he’s been pushing too hard and they encourage him to get something to eat. He refuses, and they ask each other whether someone else brought him food. Jesus says in response, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” The nourishment Jesus was claiming—what fueled him and gave him the strength to continue his ministry—was a moment by moment connection with God. That was the same connection Moses sought when the people’s demands became too much for him. This was the part the children of Israel were forgetting when they complained about the manna. They couldn’t see the blessing in it because they’d stopped seeking a vital, authentic connection with God. They’d lost their worship. In their blindness and negativity, they completely missed the spiritual significance of what it meant to have God with them, providing for them, day after day after day.
Today we aren’t crossing a desert and we’re not living in exile, but we are still seeking the spiritual reality that manna points us toward: God is present, with us, in the here and now, providing for all our needs, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Jesus tells us we have food to eat that we know not of. We can recognize that if we seek first to deepen our connection with the One who loves us and knows us better than we know ourselves. When we honor that connection first, everything else falls into place.
That’s one of the things I love most about our tradition of waiting in the silence. We simply pause together worshipfully and await God’s presence. It’s like steps 6 and 7 of the contact-awareness cycle—satisfaction and withdrawal—we rest, blessed, in the company of God. In that place of fullness, we are safe, we are loved: Spirit can speak to our hearts, inspiration bubbles up, answers to problems flash across our minds, we get ideas for new and creative things. Old wounds begin to heal, ancient conflicts dissolve, anxiousness fades into peace, and God makes a way for us where there was no way.
Maybe the secret to having enough begins when we remember that nothing can be lacking when we nurture our relationship with God. The light that shines from that contact will show us how truly blessed we are. That’s Dayenu. That’s peace. And that’s a fullness of life that will never leave us, whether manna is on the menu or not.
- OT: Numbers 11: 4-15
- NT: John 4: 31-34