If only I had iridescent breadcrumbs to lead me out of this situation.
In the German folktale, Hansel and Gretel, two children are led into the woods against their will. Hansel drops breadcrumbs along the path so they can find their way back out. He didn’t count on the hungry creatures of the forest gobbling them up, grateful for the labor-free meal. Thus begins their adventure. As they try to solve the situation on their own, they get into danger and trust the wrong person, who as it turns out, only wishes to harm them.
I’ve been in those woods. Perhaps you have as well. I’ve been led down paths I didn’t wish to go, forced out of my comfort zone into unknown territory. Being laid off without notice, having to move to a new city and leave friends and family behind, the death of my parents, the unexpected and sudden death of my spouse — these events all pushed me into seasons of hardship. The trees of uncertainty canopied my mind, blocking out the sunshine in my life. I lost all sense of direction. I stumbled along looking for breadcrumbs to tell me which way I needed to go. Like Hansel tells Gretel, so I whispered over and over to myself, “God will not forsake.” Even so, I continued to use my own skills, brains, and cunning to grope like a blind person down the not-so-well-detected path but my fears limited my vision to see beyond the moment.
The Gospel of John records: “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’” (John 6:35). Through this proclamation, he provides two profound solutions in uncertain times.
There is the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
First, we are to come to him, not rely on our own ideas and schemes. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus suggests we pray for God the Father to provide our daily bread (Matthew 6:8-13). In other words, we are to rely on him to give us what we need on a daily basis.
Pun intended, it goes against our grain to be dependent on others, right? As humans, we tend to be self-reliant. From an early age we begin to pull away from our parents and demand, “I can do it myself.” In our teen years it can grow into outright defiance as we seek our own way. Into adulthood, we strive to make it on our own — proving we have matured and are fully independent. But when trouble hits, are we also left on our own to endure the hardships?
There is the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, he graces us with intellect, experiences, and skills. But if we are to endure the trials and tribulations of this life, we should seek divine intervention. Which makes more sense — trusting in our limited insight of the “now” and our emotionally skewed version of the past, or relying on the one who is omnipotent and sees the past, present, and future? Will we try to locate our own breadcrumbs, or seek the ones the Bread of Life gives us daily to guide us on the way? We can choose to seek the eternal or wander in the temporal.
That leads us to the second point Jesus makes. We must believe. God speaks through the psalmist in Psalm 32:8 saying, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” In good times and bad, no matter what we have to endure, if we believe that God has a purpose and that he hasn’t forsaken us in the dark woods to fend for ourselves, then we will be more grateful for each breadcrumb he drops in our path. In fact, we will begin to search for them and thank him when we locate one. Believing he will lead us and counsel us along the way, we watch for another to land along the trail as we press on.
Here is another example from John’s gospel: ”When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life””(John 8:12). Jesus, as the Light of the World shines down on all the pieces along the path to help us detect them with eyes of faith.
The defiant, “I can do this myself” tacks on a disclosure, “with God’s help.”
The iridescent breadcrumbs he provides are not subject to disappearing like the ones in the folktale. However, we may walk by them if we are not observant. If we are looking everywhere but to him, we may very well miss the way out and wander deeper into the dark.
The irony is, God knows about our independent streak. That is why, by his mercy, we are given the choice to seek and find (Matthew 7:7). We must each independently decide to become dependent on God. The defiant, “I can do this myself” tacks on a disclosure, “with God’s help.” Because God believes in us and we believe in him, we now believe we can get through whatever lies ahead — if we choose to do so.
And if someone else is lost in the woods as we were, perhaps our breadcrumbs will encourage them to seek God in their path. What we’ve endured can become an encouragement for others, even if we are still in the midst of the forest trudging faithfully to wherever the Lord leads us next. Because we have faith another bread crumb will be provided, just as the manna was given daily to the Hebrews as they wandered in the wilderness, we will have no qualms about sharing with others (Exodus 16:1-31). Perhaps then others will also choose to follow Jesus and allow him to guide them down the path they’re on.
Not too crumby of a deal after all, is it?