A Review of
In Want + Plenty: Waking Up to God’s Provision in a Land of Longing
Reviewed by Christine Langford
Piles of newspaper clippings, choir programs and faded pictures lay at my feet. I felt overwhelmed. My spiritual formation leader had said “For your culminating assignment this semester, you will present your life story to the group.” But how could I shape fifty-two years of seemingly random memories into a coherent theme?
Fortunately, about that time, a mentor gave me a copy of Meredith McDaniel’s In Want and Plenty: Waking up to God’s Provision in the Land of Longing, a perfect companion for my quest to make sense of my personal story.
Meredith McDaniel, a licensed professional counselor, encourages us to re-vision our lives as we study the book of Exodus. She explores the story of Moses and the Israelites as they leave captivity, concentrating on God’s unique gift of manna on the pilgrimage. She explains,
“Manna reveals the intentional love of our Creator, who uniquely tailors provision for his people out of his deep knowing of our personalities. Manna is a smile from a stranger. Manna is a child catching fireflies. Manna is a salty breeze. Manna is a check in the mail. Manna is God’s love” (34). She wants readers to recognize similar examples of manna in their lives, both in the past and in the present.
The book groups several chapters into sections with titles like “Deep Groans” and “Tribe by Tribe.” In each section, she begins by retelling a part of the story of Exodus. But rather than quoting scripture, she summarizes the story in a contemporary style. For example, in retelling how God spoke to Moses at the burning bush, she writes that Moses, “fumbled around trying to convince God, the great I Am, that he was not the man for the job . . . ” (87). After each summary, she shares an autobiographical story that relates to the theme of the section, as well as tells stories from people she has counseled. She also incorporates a variety of scripture from both Old and New Testaments. At the end of each of these sections, she includes a page of ways to “re-vision” one’s life by looking back at the past, being still to understand the present struggle, learning what God has to say, and scanning the horizon to see what future steps to take. Because the Israelites sang during their journey, she includes a song selection on the page of works by independent artists with substantive theology in their lyrics. McDaniel finds music speaks to her and becomes an outlet, whether in moments of deep pain or great joy. So, she encourages readers to use music in a similar way to explore their own lives. In addition to the ending page of questions, she sprinkles other questions, in green print, throughout the chapters for the reader to ponder as they look at their own story.
McDaniel draws some decent, though not earth-shattering conclusions from her exploration of Exodus. But what sets the book apart from others is that she helps readers reflect on their own stories through guided journaling. We must slow down and savor this book, taking time to think about and write down the answers to the questions. She wants us to sit with the harder questions, to name our “dark thorns.” She describes how we are “selectively transparent” with a few people, but we typically omit the “dark details” of our lives. Part of the book explores the purpose in that darkness and pain in our lives. She suggests that we need to reach out to friends and family as we process some of the harder parts of our story, and some readers will need to consult professional counselors. She gives a list of resources in the back for those who need such help.
The book culminates with the role of Jesus as our “hidden manna,” though she admits that fact will not resolve all of our pain. In a world of self-help books with easy answers, McDaniel wants to help us live in that “land of longing.” She explores how God provides manna in our hard places, using as an example her experiences as she walked with a friend battling and succumbing to cancer. The author suggests we avoid viewing the goal of our odyssey as reaching the Promised Land itself, but rather experiencing God’s presence with us. She hopes “we rest knowing he is near and we have all we need with his Holy Spirit dwelling in us. His presence is enough” (225). He will give us the daily bread we need. This world will never satisfy us.The epilogue urges readers to recognize those who have been the manna-makers for us, as well as to encourage us to provide manna for others. The more we acknowledge God’s provision in our lives, the more easily we can provide the manna for others on a similar journey. Meredith McDaniel’s book gave me sustenance and direction as I looked at my life—a trip I would encourage other readers to take with her as they re-vision their own quest in the Wilderness.