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Daily Scripture and Prayer for February 2024

Last month we took a deep dive together into the foundational concept of Biblical grace. For the 13 days of this month, as we complete the season of Epiphany and prepare to enter into the season of Lent, we will consider the concept of hope in the New Testament and how that is the natural, powerful consequence of receiving grace. Remember as we begin the month that New Testament hope is not a wish, like I wish I would win the lottery or that my cold would clear up quickly. In the New Testament, the words for hope all stem from the same root word that means the happy anticipation of good things. It has at its core, deep confidence that God is up to good in even the most distressing circumstances. New Testament hope is a confident trust that God is indeed trustworthy, present, at work and able. New Testament hope is not swayed by circumstances or disappointments because the believer is already living beyond those things in the flow of God’s eternal grace. To hope is to place trust firmly in the one who firmly holds us. It is not wishful thinking. Nor does it mean that we suppress feelings of sadness or even despair. It simply acknowledges that the anticipation of goodness in our lives is warranted. Hope gives hurt boundaries. Pain gives hope context. There is a quietness of heart that arises in a believer when we decide that we want to move beyond our ordinary experience to a grounding that cannot be shaken. This is why hope is often linked to peace and sometimes translated as trust in the Bible. It is this grounding hope that prepares us for the Lenten journey. As you read this month, set aside a moment or two to quiet your heart and minds. Breathe deeply and ask God to open up some free and open space within you to receive both hope and, if needed, mercy.

Feb. 1 – Matthew 12:18-21“Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope.” In today’s verses Jesus puts together several beautiful prophecies from Isaiah to try to get his hearers to understand what he is about and, by extension, what his followers are to be about. Here he shows us that God’s love and justice extend beyond all the boundaries of exclusion of any day. He tells us that justice is for everyone, no exceptions, and that the way to bring it about is with gentle clarity of purpose so that the weak are not hurt even for a positive goal. In the final sentence, Jesus makes a declarative statement that when God’s servant does God’s work, the outsider and despised (Gentiles) will have hope. When we today live as God’s servants according to Jesus’ model, the outcasts who often feel no hope, will, indeed, live in happy anticipation of good things. Sometimes we need to receive hope for ourselves before we can even imagine proclaiming it to others. Today, think about the places where you most need to experience hope. Are there areas of your life that you have despised, denied or not made a priority? How might you live with more balance and wholeness (which is always a part of Biblical justice) today? Just as Jesus shows us here, be gentle with yourself as you reflect. Don’t kick yourself when you are down. Just raise the image of wholeness to mind and allow God to bring the light you need for today.

Prayer: God of Hope, help me today to live in joyful anticipation of good things, knowing that you are trustworthy, and you have my back. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

Feb. 2 – Luke 24:21 “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” The Risen Christ is walking along a dusty road with two disciples who are headed home to Emmaus after the heartbreaking and baffling events of the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus. They are completely crushed and confused. Some of the other disciples are even claiming that they have seen Jesus risen from the dead and they do not know what to think. These two disciples do not recognize Jesus as he walks with them, and yet they share with him their experiences and their deep hope, a hope they now think was misplaced, that Jesus would be the longed-for Messiah who would set things right on earth and with earth’s empires. It will take a sacramental experience of Jesus, and his profound teaching, for them to realize that he was with them on the journey even when they didn’t know it. Perhaps the specific outcomes of the hope they harbored did not manifest as they dreamed, but they quickly learned that their hope was not frustrated at all. Jesus has come to them, remains with them after his death, and is about the Messianic work of setting up God’s reign within them. Sometimes we, too, can think our hope in God is misplaced when we ask for what we are convinced we need and do not get it. Even in those times when we are crushed and confused, Jesus is with us, walking along our dusty road, teaching, and feeding us, whether we recognize him or not. Hope is not a wish. It is a certainty built on trust that God is good and always will be, perhaps even most lavishly, when our plans feel frustrated. Today think for a moment about a time when you felt your hope in God waver or when you trusted for something specific and got something completely different. What did that feel like? Looking back can you see hidden ways that Jesus walked with you and taught you knew things as you journeyed? What thought patterns do you need to tame so that you can live with joyful anticipation today?

Prayer: God of Hope, help me today to live in joyful anticipation of good things, knowing that you are trustworthy, and you have my back. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

Feb 3 – John 5:45-47 “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set you hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”

This is the only instance in John’s Gospel where he uses the word for hope. As is so often the case in John, he is using it in a bit of a different way. It is used more like we might use the word allegiance. John most often uses forms of the Greek word for faith or trust when others might use the word hope. In these verses he is speaking to people who are struggling with him and his Biblical interpretations. They are strict conservatives, and they are letter of the law literalists. They claim that their allegiance lies in the Law of Moses as they have been taught it. Jesus points out the problem of their narrow perspective. He lives the law fully in a human life. They cannot do that and, as we often do ourselves, substitute lip service and defensiveness for transformation. Jesus says that they really don’t believe what Moses wrote or it would be different in their lives. Still, he does not accuse them harshly, their own texts do that. Sometimes we, too, can miss the forest for our fixation on the tree. While each tree is indeed precious and has value, it is not the equal to the whole. Take a moment today to step back from the scripture, even the one we are considering, and take a bird’s eye view of the whole of revelation in Jesus. What does God’s law look like in a human life? How do you concentrate on your own perspectives to the point that you can’t see anything new? Where do you really place your hope? What might you need to release to hope for fully?

Prayer: God of Hope, help me today to live in joyful anticipation of good things, knowing that you are trustworthy and you have my back. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

Feb 4 – Acts 2:26 - ‘Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover, my flesh will live in hope.” In this verse, taken from Peter’s great speech on Pentecost after the gift of the Holy Spirit, he draws on Psalm 16 to support his case. He is declaring to a bumfuzzled, and sometimes ridiculing crowd, that the experience of Spirit power they have just witnessed is evidence that a whole new kingdom has come. Not only that, the power of God in this new manifestation is personal and close at hand. No longer must people wait and wonder who God is and where they stand with God. Now God is right there with them, upon them. Of course, God’s nearness did not suddenly arrive with the Spirit, but with the Spirit we have new awareness and access to the personal power of God in our lives and communities. Because of that our ethics are glad, our mouths speak only praise, and our very bodies and personalities have their life in hope. Hope has become our life’s blood. We are surrounded by Spirit like wind. We are met by Spirit like a dove. We are purified by Spirit like fire. Today, see if you can remember a moment when you felt the power of the Holy Spirit in a special way. Even if it was just for a second, what emotions came up in you? Did you feel lightness or gladness? Did you find that you felt new power to change areas that needed change? Did you feel new energy and expectation in your body? Did you get misty eyed? Were you dumb struck? If you have experienced anything like that, or something totally unique to you, then you have experienced a moment of what it is like to live in hope, to live in joyful expectation and trust for the future, and simultaneous contentment with the present moment. These experiences are our inheritance in Christ. Sometimes they break into the dailiness of life unexpectedly and suddenly. Often, though, they are happening and available all the time but we don’t stop to notice. Today, make a point of stopping and noticing everything around you for a few moments. Don’t judge it. Just notice. If to do lists arise in your mind while you are noticing, just put them on the shelf. There will be time for all of that later. You may find that you feel overwhelmed with hope when you truly stop and open to it. You may feel a new connection, a new oneness, with everything around you. You may feel nothing at all. In either case, just stopping is an act of trusting hope and joyful expectation.

Prayer: God of Hope, help me today to live in joyful anticipation of good things, knowing that you are trustworthy, and you have my back. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

Feb. 5 – Acts 16:19 But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. Paul and Silas are spreading the Gospel in Philippi, a beautiful and robust town in what is now Greece. They have met a number of godly women who worship by the river. One, Lydia, accepted their witness eagerly and invited them to stay with her in her home. One day, on their way to the place of prayer, they encountered a slave girl with a prophetic spirit from which her masters made money and that Paul thought was demonic. He casts it out and her masters, having lost their cash asset, are none too pleased. They take Paul and Silas to court where they are summarily jailed. The use of the word hope in this verse in interesting. It reminds us that sometimes we can put our hope in the wrong things. Sometimes we can trust the wrong powers. These businessmen had come to trust their wealth. That led them to be comfortable with exploiting a helpless person and justifying that exploitation. That is hope misplaced with all its attendant degradation. The consequences of misplaced trust often fall harshly on those who call it out and repudiate it, just as we see in this story. The ones who say no to it are the ones that wind up in jail. We are not told what ultimately happens to the slave owner. We can be certain, though, that somehow or another the scales are balanced. Jesus tells us we reap what we sow. What we know is that miracles come about when we are faithful, place our hope in God, and what is right. God breaks Paul and Silas out of jail and orchestrates an opportunity for witness and conversion in the bargain. Can you think of a time when you put your hope in the wrong thing, a relationship, a job, a bank account, and found that it failed you in the end? Have you ever found yourself defending someone else’s plight because it was to your advantage to keep the status quo? Have you ever kept your mouth shut when you should have spoken up for another person because you were afraid of the consequences? Was there something that woke you up and turned you around? To put our real hope in God sometimes takes a lot of courage. Can you think of a time when you did that? What was the result? Take a minute today to thank God for all you have learned from the experiences of your life.

Prayer: God of Hope, help me today to live in joyful anticipation of good things, knowing that you are trustworthy, and you have my back. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

Feb. 6 – Acts 23:6 - When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” Paul was determined to go to Jerusalem even though he knew the dangers that awaited him. He had a financial love offering to share with the impoverished Jerusalem church before he made his way to Rome. His reception by the Jewish establishment was frigid at best, murderous at worst. When he told the story of his ‘conversion’, some found it so dangerous that they stirred up others and he was arrested in the Temple. Like Jesus before him, he was sent from one authority to another. In today’s verse, he has been sent back to the Jewish authorities after the Roman authorities release him because he is a Roman citizen. The issue, at least in Paul’s mind, was his certain hope in the resurrection of the dead. Pharisees believed that some kind of after life was possible. Sadducees did not. So, when Paul raises the issue before the council, they, as humans often do, started fighting among themselves. It got so violent that Roman authorities had to step in. For Paul, all of human history pivoted with the resurrection. When Jesus displayed for all to see that unending life is possible, belief or possibility turned into a rock-solid hope. The hope of the resurrection can also cause division in our own day. Many people believe, like the Sadducees did, that this life is all there is; that when we die, we simply cease to exist. They can be adamant and violent in their opinions just as the ancestors were. But what about us? Can we like Paul, rest our every breath on the rock-solid hope that there is no such thing as an end to us? Can we too face the metaphorical gallows with our friends and neighbors as we share with them our hope of eternal life and our belief that it has already begun? Paul will eventually, and not too long after this, die in prison because he staked this life on the promise of unending life. Have you ever had to pay a price for sharing your faith, for standing firm on your hope? Today imagine your hope in the resurrection as a solid unshakeable boulder upon which you stand. What does it feel like to stand on that rock? How does that hope change the way you live today?

Prayer: God of Hope, help me today to live in joyful anticipation of good things, knowing that you are trustworthy, and you have my back. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

Feb. 7 – Acts 24:15 - “I have a hope in God—a hope that they themselves also accept—that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. Therefore, I do my best always to have a clear conscience toward God and all people.” After the riot in the Temple, Paul is put on trial before the Roman Governor, Felix. He has been accused by everybody, especially the religious establishment, of being a ‘pestilent fellow’, ‘an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world.’ Once again when asked to make his defense, it rests on his hope in God, a hope he believes his Jewish compatriots also accept. Paul has many more court appearances ahead of him. He will tell his story before tribunals, governors, councils, kings and even the emperor before all is said and done. Reading the whole story from beginning to end in Acts leaves me shaking my head at what ‘good’ people are willing to do to each other when threatened over their religious perspectives. We know what that is like. We even see what it is like to try to get the secular government involved and taking sides. It was ever thus and ever deadly. Fixating on differences takes up a lot of energy that could be used on forbearance or compassion. Still, there are some issues upon which we find we must take a stand. Not to do so would be tantamount to abandoning our faith. That choice, as it did for Paul, can also lead to far ranging consequences and, if not physical death, the death of relationships, institutional connections and more. Can you think of a time when you had to stand on your faith in the presence of pressure or controversy? In that experience did you feel your hope surge or ebb? What were the consequences? Has God given you sweet consolations? Has God renewed your hope? Do you find that you can look forward with joyful expectation more than you look back with bitterness, or regret? Think about the ways that God has brought you through times when you felt you must take a stand and be thankful.

Prayer: God of Hope, help me today to live in joyful anticipation of good things, knowing that you are trustworthy, and you have my back. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

Feb. 8 – Acts 26:6-8  “And now I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain as they earnestly worship day and night. It is for this hope, your Excellency, that I am accused by Jews! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” As his court battles continue, Paul finds himself before King Agrippa, once again asked to defend himself against charges of being a disturber of the peace,  rabble rouser and a number of other serious charges. His accusers believe he is a dangerous heretic who does not follow their Law and threatens the peace of the empire itself by the disturbance and violence that erupts around him. He has appealed to Rome, declaring that he has broken no Temple nor Roman law. Once again it seems that the straw that has broken the backs of the Jewish leadership is Paul’s hope in the resurrection of the dead. They cannot agree on it and that disagreement is threatening to divide and devastate the whole Jewish hierarchy. He has lit a match to a fuse that was laid years before, but Paul’s incendiary witness has brought it to combustion. It is not unusual for theological lines in the sand to be drawn with violent consequences. What is interesting is that the division has solidified around Paul’s unwavering hope in eternal life. Paul uses the word hope in two ways in these texts. It is the bedrock anticipation of eternal good. It is also the resurrection itself that becomes hope for him. The empty tomb proves beyond any doubt to Paul that eternal life is God’s plan, even if it is ultimately mysterious. Hope rests in the resurrection and the resurrection itself becomes our hope. In times of division, both secular and theological, what role does your hope in eternal life play in the daily choices that you make? If, as Paul was, you were asked to tell the story of your hope, what would you say? Take a moment today to think about how hope was planted in you, especially hope in eternal life. Has there ever been a time when you had to defend your faith in eternity to a hostile person or group? What words might you choose to use if called upon to do so today?

Prayer: God of Hope, help me today to live in joyful anticipation of good things, knowing that you are trustworthy, and you have my back. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

Feb. 9 – Acts 27:20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.  Paul has made his final appeal as a Roman citizen to the highest court in the empire. Upon making that appeal he is sent, under guard, by ship to Rome. A terrible storm besets the ship, and they all fear for their lives. Yet they are spared and washed up on the shores of Malta. It is interesting that sometimes it is when all hope is lost that a miracle happens. It is usually a miracle that shifts our perceptions and alters the course of our lives, even if we don’t see that immediately. By being shipwrecked on Malta, Paul is given another venue to preach his message of hope. Can you think of a time when something you hoped for, or a plan that you were certain of, had to be abandoned? What led up to that moment of release? Did you find that God, once you no longer clung to your plan, gave you something new that you never dreamed of before? Thinking about the journey of your life, when were you blown off course by circumstances beyond your control? How did God use that time? How have you experienced a renewal of hope out of a chaotic situation? Perhaps you can think of a time when you were totally lost at sea and did not know if you could make it through your difficulty. Perhaps you can remember a time when you gave up all hope only to find yourself on a new and wonderful path. Perhaps you are in a ‘hopeless’ situation right now. Spend some time today imaging a new hope-filled future. Let that new moment become fully formed in your imagination. Enter into it. Feel it’s power. Then let it go and wait in expectation for God to do what only God can do.

Prayer: God of Hope, help me today to live in joyful anticipation of good things, knowing that you are trustworthy, and you have my back. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

Feb. 10 – Romans 4:18 - Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become the “father or many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.”
Stepping backwards in the life of Paul, we find him writing this letter to the church in Rome from the relative comfort of Corinth. Paul wants so much to visit this church, to teach there, and to gain their support in achieving his greatest ambition of taking the Gospel to Spain. As we have already seen he is arrested and, we believe, dies in house arrest in Rome without making his trip to Spain. Still, in the book of Romans, Paul, while certainly having a sense of foreboding about going to Jerusalem on the way, is full of hope and expectation that he will achieve his goal. The book of Romans, the last of his writings that we have, is complex and unbelievably beautiful. In it he gives words to his hope, his faith and, especially, to how he understands God’s saving work for humanity in Jesus. In this verse, after making his argument that we are made right with God by God’s grace through faith, he goes back in salvation history to show that that has always been how God has dealt with God’s children. Using the example of God’s call to Abraham, he contends that it was Abraham’s faith in God’s call that led to the rise of the covenant people. It was faith that did its mighty work in the ancestors, and faith that does mighty work even today.  By laying the foundation of his argument going all the way back to Abraham, Paul reminds us that our faith itself has a history. It is trust in God that makes hope durable. In using this example, he reminds us that when we rely on God’s grace, we too can hope in unimaginable things that are in accord with God’s will. Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children, yet God willed a legacy for them. And God brought it about even when it was unthinkable. Have you ever had a time when you hoped against hope, when you stood on your faith for an outcome that seemed outrageous? Have you ever had a time when you knew that God wanted to use you and you also knew you did not have what it took, but you hoped in God’s word anyway? Have you ever had a time when you said, like Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, ‘Nevertheless not my will but yours?’ What was the outcome of that faithful submission? Perhaps today you are hoping against hope for something. Remember that hoping against hope is not for just anything we might want. It is for God to do what God says God will do, and to do it with and for us. Today, spend a moment thinking about what God’s fondest desire is for you and our church. Be specific. Offer your reflections to God to work with. Ask God to deepen your insights and to grow your hope.

Prayer: God of Hope, help me today to live in joyful anticipation of good things, knowing that you are trustworthy, and you have my back. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

Feb. 11 – Romans 5:1-2 - Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. What soaring words these are! Paul has made his case that God’s eternal promise is realized through our faith in Jesus. We stand in a long line of grace. Knowing that gives us a special kind of hope. Having been made completely complete by Christ, we now can joyfully anticipate that God will make us like Christ, and that we, too, will shimmer with the very glory of God. Our faith fills us with hope, a firm conviction, that God is taking us somewhere and more and more we will share in God’s glory. This does not simply mean God’s splendor and radiance, as it does in some other parts of the Bible. For Paul, God is the one who moves with righteousness upon the earth, and that is God’s glory: the doing of justice, living according to the created plan of goodness, plenty, balance and love. For human beings to hope in glory is not simply to hope to share God’s power and splendor. It is to share in God’s character. For Paul this glory for human beings will finally be complete in the nearer presence of God in heaven but is put to work in our own lives every day now. We are to act for God as God would act. Can you think of a time when God used you to do a ‘God thing?’ What was that like? What happened? Can you think of a time when you acted for justice or righteousness in your world? How did you feel? What were the results. In this section of Romans Paul tells us that it is our joyful trust that God will use us to do love and justice in our homes and communities. What a promise!

Prayer: God of Hope, help me today to live in joyful anticipation of good things, knowing that you are trustworthy, and you have my back. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

Feb. 12 – Romans 5:3-4 - And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Paul reminds us that suffering is alchemical. Hardship, and the way we face it, can produce new capacities within us that are hard to come by in other ways. When we face difficulty, confident in the goodness of God, we often find a deepening quality that we translate here as endurance. The word in Greek is quite active. It means the capacity to persevere and to have a strengthened ability to abide something and with something. It describes an active overcoming, not a quiet resignation. It is much like the old phrase “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Here though the concept is a little deeper than that. For Paul, strength arrives in the midst of trouble, not as a result of going through the trouble. That enduring capacity arises from the root system of new and abiding hope. When we face hardship, we find the strength to endure it. When we embrace that endurance, we find at its heart a deepened hope that reminds us that we can always expect goodness and joy. Goodness and joy are inevitable because that is who God is. That is why hope is always warranted even when we do not see a positive way through our problems. There is a way because God is the way. Can you think of a time when you felt beset by problems that did not seem to ease? Were there any moments of peace that arose in that time that allowed you to feel a little hopeful? You may not have been able to identify those moments if the situation was really awful, but they were there inside you doing their strengthening work. Can you think of a time when you endured something and found that you got stronger as you went along? Can you see, looking back, that even when things were awful you were becoming a better, more loving person? These verses do not elevate suffering into something that we seek, nor is it something that God sends. Paul simply tell us that when suffering inevitably comes, God will use it for our good.

Prayer: God of Hope, help me today to live in joyful anticipation of good things, knowing that you are trustworthy, and you have my back. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

Feb. 13 – Romans 5:5 - and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5 is one long sentence in the Greek. Today’s verse is the powerful conclusion. In the strongest possible language, Paul tells us that our hope is never wasted when we place it in the goodness of God. Hope cannot be wasted. It cannot disappoint us because God’s love has been so lavished upon us that our hearts are brimming with it, filled to overflowing with it, even if we are momentarily blinded to that love by the trials of life. When Paul earlier in the sentence speaks of suffering, his words certainly apply to personal trials and challenges, but more specifically, this word refers to the intense pressure we sometimes feel when we are faced with a choice between the right thing and the wrong thing. This is especially true when doing right can be costly. In situations like that, Paul says each choice for the right increases our capacity to actively endure, creates a Godly character in us, and expands the hope with which we can meet each situation. It is the lavish love of God that gives us the power to make right choices and the grace to turn around when have chosen wrongly. Can you think of a time when you felt under intense moral pressure? What was that like? How did you make your decision? What were the consequences? Did you experience renewed hope in that situation or in reflecting on its aftermath? How do you most often become aware of the love of God for you? Take a moment today to look into your heart and see it as an overflowing vessel, continuously replenished with God’s unconditional love for you and allow that flow to reawaken your hope.

Prayer: God of Hope, help me today to live in joyful anticipation of good things, knowing that you are trustworthy, and you have my back. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

Making Room for Alleluias: A New Kind of Lenten Fast 2024,  Rev. Eugenia Anne Gamble

Throughout the centuries of the church’s common life, it has been a common practice during the forty days plus Sundays leading up to Easter Day for the faithful to ‘give up something’ as a sign of devotion. Often those commitments fade fast, and even if we do remain steadfast, the practice becomes a dogged exercise of self-will that leaves us rushing to the Seven Eleven for Twinkies as soon as the clock ticks past midnight on Easter morning. While God blesses all attempts at faithfulness, I do wonder about how much the kingdom actually hinges on our ability to refrain from sugar, broccoli or cussing for forty days only to become more focused on those things by the very act of denying them.

Still, Jesus himself fasted for forty days in the wilderness immediately after his baptism. After that great high, the Spirit drove him into the wilderness to grapple with his identity and do spiritual battle with anything and everything that sought to undermine him. Remember, that in addition to being the Son of God, Jesus was also fully human, just as we are. He faced and wrestled with the same ‘devils’ that we do. In order for him to do what he came to do; he had to tame the competing forces and release any power they held over him. With Jesus as our model, I believe that each of us must do that as well if we are to live our most blessed lives and be ready for all the Alleluias yet ahead of us.

The profound call to repentance is at the heart of the spiritual practice of Lent. This, of course, does not mean to simply feel sorry for our sins. Nor is it really about feeling shame or remorse. Repentance is about awakening to a new reality, leaving the old behind and heading in an entirely different direction with a fundamental change of heart and world view. Repenting is the work of awakening and beginning to fix broken relationships, priorities and habits of thought and action. For many of us that means letting go of that which does harm to anyone including ourselves. We do that letting go not as an act of will and jaw clenching discipline, but rather as a healing act that creates space for something completely new and life giving to emerge. 

This year, I’d like to propose a different kind of Lenten fast from that which we may be accustomed to choosing. Loosely using the temptations that Jesus faced (see Luke 4:1-13), each day in Lent, I invite you to practice letting go of a particular habit or tendency of body or heart that has the capacity to lead you off course and cause harm to yourself or others. I invite you, as you practice this ‘fast’, to become consciously aware that you are making room in your life and soul for the Alleluias that are just ahead after the hard journey of letting go. You don’t need to try to wrestle whatever you a releasing out of you. It will only gain power if you do that and cling more tenaciously. Rather, like Jesus did in his wilderness, simply name the thing, recognize its danger, and let it go. Sometimes the release will be gentle and almost effortless. Other times you may need to cast your burden, hurl it with a little force. You will know which is called for. Just don’t ruminate on the thing and give if more power than it already has. Notice and say as a prayer: “I don’t need that. That’s not me. Thank you, Lord. I am making space for the Alleluias to come.” Close your devotion each day by repeating aloud the following verse from Isa. 43. Try to hear it as God’s response to your prayer. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”

February 13 – Fat Tuesday 

In Mardi Gras country where I live, Fat Tuesday (which is of course the literal translation of Mardi Gras) is the pinnacle of the wild season of floats, parades, and balls. In pre pandemic times, churches often had pancake suppers with contests for who could eat the most pancakes, sausages, and pralines. I kid you not. It was like we all had to gorge ourselves with good things because during Lent we would be deprived of all joy and happiness. Now that the worst of pandemic seems behind us, that tradition is rising again. Since Lent is a time to repent of sin and prepare to live better lives, it never made a lot of sense to me to try to sin as much as possible the night before. But that’s just me. Today, I invite you to spend some time thanking God for all the joyful abundance of your life. Don’t try to gorge yourself. Neither is it usually useful to enter into a spirit of deprivation or scarcity. I once had a parishioner who bade me farewell on Transfiguration and said she would see me on Easter Sunday. “I don’t need Lent, Eugenia,” she said. “I’m depressed enough as it is.” Obviously, that is not the point of Lent. Still the journey can have unexpected turns and challenging awakenings when we enter into it deeply. So today, breathe deeply. Just enjoy the wonder of all that God does for you, your church, community, and our beautiful world. Create in your mind a mental parade of all that God has given you and watch it pass by with joy. Knowing that parade is never ending can help us face the challenges of keeping a holy Lent of Letting Go. Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”

Prayer: Gracious God, the fullness of our lives is wonderful indeed. Today we pause to thank you for every blessing. Help us see the journey of Lent that starts tomorrow, with all its space clearing, as a part of that parade of blessing, too. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

February 14 – Ash Wednesday 

Today begin by reading Luke 4:1-13. This is the story of Jesus’ temptations/testing in the wilderness. Please read this passage, or Matthew’s (4:1-11) or Mark’s (1:12-13) versions of the story each day during Lent to ground your reflections.

Today I take down my Mardi Gras tree. It is really just my Christmas tree with the ornaments changed out to purple, gold and green butterflies, tinsel and masks. Masks are a big thing during Mardi Gras. And, truth be told, they are a big thing in our lives as well. We wear dozens of them. Sometimes they are needed. Life doesn’t go very well if we express on our faces, or with our words, every thought that comes into our heads. Still, if we wear masks too long, (one’s like our happy face, or our angry face, or our able to handle anything face, or our ultra-competent face) we can come to so identify with those masks that we think they are who we really are. Granted, they are a part of who we are. We are happy. We are angry. We are competent. But we are more than that as well. Sometimes the masks’ primary role is to keep us and others from seeing who we really are in all of our human complexity. Today I invite you to consider the masks you wear each day. What do they do for you? What do they take from you? Let the Spirit lift one in particular to your mind. Look at it carefully. Where did it come from. What is it designed to hide? Then simply put it down. You might say as a prayer, “I don’t need that mask. That’s not me. I release it to you, Lord. I am making room for Alleluia. Thank you.” Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”


Prayer: Gracious God, during this journey of surrender this Lent, thank you for your tender care and wisdom. I know that all you want for me is freedom and love. As I release the masks I habitually wear, help me to see more clearly the me that you love dearly. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

February 15  – Letting God of Self-Indulgence.

During his time in the wilderness, Jesus fasted for many days before his temptations came into stark focus. Fasting for spiritual purposes has a long history in most of the great spiritual traditions. It is not about denial, or weakening the body from lack of food. Fasting is about making space within for new growth and insight. It is about coming to understand our self-indulgences and how much room they take up in our hearts. Fasting helps us understand those things that we do habitually or even addictively and why we do them. Spiritual masters have long understood that self-indulgence can be a potent numbing agent. We can gorge ourselves on all kinds of things, food, drink, hobbies, or even just pastimes. We can indulge in a second bowl of ice cream when we are full or a whole bag of Ruffles when we are anxious. These indulgences are often simply an inappropriate way of managing unpleasant emotions like anger, fear, self-doubt or boredom. Today I invite you to consider your self-indulgences. See if you can tell the difference between self-care or kindness and an indulgence that is actually the opposite of self-care cleverly disguised. Why do you think you choose that indulgence? What emotions are you trying to manage with it? What emotions actually arise as a result of indulging? Let the Spirit lift one specific instance of self-indulgence to mind. Look at it carefully and with supreme gentleness. You might say as a prayer, “I don’t need that self-indulgence. That’s not me. I release it to you, Lord. I am making room for Alleluias. Thank you.” Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”

Prayer: Gracious God, sometimes I don’t know what is good for me. Or if I do I don’t always act like it. Help me today to release to you anything that is self-destructive. Fill me instead with the feast of your love. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

February 16 – Letting Go of People Pleasing.

We can’t know the specific things with which Jesus wrestled in the early days of his wilderness experience. I have often wondered if, early on, he had to wrestle with the desire to shape himself in a way that was more palatable and pleasing to others. Surely, even this early, he knew that his message would ruffle feathers. More than that, he must have known that it could create a storm of rage and indignation that would be hard to turn around. Yet, in the stories that we have of him, we see very little people pleasing. Kindness? A plenty. Wisdom? A stunning amount. Tenderness? That too. But trying to shape his life and message to please others? Not at all. I cannot say the same of myself. There have been many times when my need to please has harnessed my tongue. There have been many times when my need to please has muddied my boundaries and made self-care a pipe dream. What Jesus helps us see is that when we measure everything we do by how we think it will be perceived, we probably will never be true agents of change or ushers of the kingdom. Today, take a moment to think about your tendency to ‘package yourself’ in order to please others. I’m not talking about actions you take from genuine love in order to bring joy or to lift others up. I’m talking about actions you take, or do not take, out of fear of rejection, judgment or being seen as faulty. Invite the Spirit to show you a specific incidence when you molded yourself out of shape to please others. Why did you do it? What did you need that you thought you could not get otherwise? Look at that tendency carefully and gently. When you are ready, you might say as a prayer, “I don’t need to please everyone around me. That’s not me. I release it to you, Lord. I am making room for Alleluias. Thank you.” Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”


Prayer: Gracious God, help us to remember today that you have created us, and we are beautiful in your sight just as we are. Create within us a spirit of love so strong that we can simply be who we are without fear or recrimination. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

February 17 – Letting Go of the Tyranny of the Urgent 

Surely during those long hungry days in the wilderness, Jesus must have thought of thousands of things that urgently needed doing. Perhaps the orders were backed up in his carpentry shop. Perhaps he had agreed to speak at the Temple. Perhaps his mother had given him a list of things to do a mile long. Perhaps he had heard of someone who needed his healing touch. Perhaps he was driven to be in worship and learn from the other rabbis. It would be natural. Whenever we find ourselves in a moment of spiritual transition or transformation, we too can find our minds cluttered with other things that seem more urgent. We have a deadline at work. Supper doesn’t cook itself. Our child or grandchild needs to be picked up from school. Our library book is due, and we haven’t finished it. Others need our help, and they need it right this minute. All of those things are perfectly true and important. Still, not everything that feels urgent is actually, in this moment, urgent. Some things would even benefit from our taking a pause to breathe deeply and sort the important from the crucial. Today, I invite you to pause and release the tyranny of your personal urgencies. Take a moment to think about your duties or desires. Is there anything that cannot wait for five minutes? If so, do that immediately! If not, take a look at what seems so crucial and ask yourself whether it is important, urgent or maybe not all that important at all. Why do you drive yourself in this way? What does being ruled by the urgent numb you to? What does it protect you from? Does it really? If you find that things are not quite as urgent as you thought, take a deep breath, and release them one by one. You can always pick them back up again at their time. When you are ready, you might say as a prayer, “I don’t need that urgency. That is not me, Lord. I release it to you. I am making room for Alleluias. Thank you.”

Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”

Prayer: Gracious God, help me today to order my priorities in a sane and gentle way, trusting that you will deal with what is urgent and I can rest in your provision. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

February 18 – Letting Go of Busy-ness

Yesterday we thought about the way that the seemingly urgent demands of life can skew our thinking and leave us stuck and unable to set healthy priorities. In a related way, never stopping can leave us spiritually stuck and emotionally and physically exhausted. In the beautiful story of Jesus visiting his friends Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42) in which Mary sits to learn with the men while Martha is wrung out trying to manage all the household duties involved with entertaining a special guest and his entourage, Jesus wisely tells Martha that Mary has chosen a better path. Why? I think it was because Jesus saw that what Martha was ‘doing’ was ‘doing her in.’ Why? Had her duties become a substitute for her real life? Had her many obligations kept her so frazzled that she never took the time to deepen her faith? Was she always going to get around to learning scripture or prayer when the laundry was done, or the living earned? We, too can use our busy-ness as a way to avoid going deeper in our faith. We can use our busy-ness as a way to protect our egos and to make ourselves indispensable. Surely in the wilderness, Jesus must have ruminated on all that he was not getting done and yet he stopped. He took time to just stop, to create space in the busy-ness of life for a deepening sense of his mission and a careful refining of his character. God calls each of us to that same kind of Sabbath stopping. When we let go of our busy-ness, what we often find behind it all is a powerful presence of Love, ready to hold us, mold us, heal us and turn our attention toward the next right thing. I invite you today to stop for a little while. Just stop. Stop long enough to feel any discomfort that may arise in you. Allow that discomfort to be what it is. It will rise and pass away. Imagine all of your busy-ness as a parade of little boats on a stream. Notice each one but don’t jump on board. Let the flow take them downstream. As you watch them pass, you might say in prayer, “I don’t need that busyness in order to be worthwhile. It’s not me. I release it to you, Lord. I am making room for Alleluias. Thank you.” Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”

Prayer: Gracious God, help me today to live mindfully and peacefully. Show me where my busyness gets in the way of living my fullest life in you and help me to release what I do not need to do, trusting you for all outcomes. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

February 19 – Letting Go of Carrying a Painful Past 

It may be hard for us to think of carrying the wounds of the past as something that Jesus needed to relinquish, but I imagine that it was. Scandal had followed him from even before his birth. Had Joseph been more of a stickler for the Law, Mary could well have been executed when her pregnancy was revealed. The scandal surely affected Joseph’s business and his standing in the community. Mary was, no doubt, a pariah. As Jesus himself grew, the scandal followed him, and his every action was scrutinized through that lens. Wasn’t he the kid who scared his parents by running away to the Temple? Didn’t he hang out with the wrong crowd? Didn’t he act really strangely just last week at his baptism? Carrying the internal burden of those painful moments in his life could certainly have hampered his mission. If he carried that baggage he might have had less compassion for those who had hurt him or even his parents. The memories of the old hurts and shame might have taken up too much energy inside himself, so much that he might have missed opportunities that were crucial for his mission. That is certainly true for many of us. When we carry around the internal load of our painful memories it can not only sap our strength and truncate our mission, it can also lie to us about others and ourselves. The ones who hurt us become objects of scorn and we can begin to hope that they will suffer for it. On top of that, we can begin, secretly, to believe that we deserved what we got and heap more shame and abuse on ourselves pulling the scab off the wound over and over again. Either way, the God, who asks us to cast our care upon Jesus, asks us to remember that our wounds neither define us nor the ones who have hurt us. I invite you today to remember a wound you sustained in the past that has never fully resolved in you. Look at if carefully if it is not too painful. Look at it from a distance. You are no longer in that situation. You can safely observe it without danger of further harm. Why has this memory lingered so long? Do you feel mostly anger about this incident? Sadness? A sense of broken trust? Shame? When those feelings arise, let them pass away on their own. As those feelings pass away, you may find that the space left behind by them will feel gentler and much more compassionate. When you are ready to release this memory and its pain, in a spirit of prayer say, “I don’t need that pain. That’s not me. I release it to you, Lord. I am making space for Alleluias. Thank you.” Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”


Prayer: Dear God, sometimes we collude in our own pain by carrying hurtful memories too long and too fiercely. Help us today to let go of the old pain we no longer wish to carry. Fill the spaces left behind with your healing grace and forgiveness. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

February 20 – Letting Go of Unrealistic Expectations  

Surely, in those early days in the wilderness, Jesus was filled with all of the images and expectations about who Messiah would be and what Messiah would do with which he had been trained. Yes, there was a strain in Israel’s history of Messiah as suffering servant, but it was far from the dominant one. The hope of Messiah was that he would be the mighty war hero who would raise an army, route Rome, and insure that the promises made to Abraham and Sarah were once again realized in the land. In Jesus’ time of hunger and heightened spiritual sensitivity in the wilderness, did the Spirit encourage Jesus to take a look at the expectations of his tradition and release them so that he could be the Messiah we needed and not necessarily the one we expected? If so, I am sure that letting go of those expectations was no easier for him that letting go of our expectations is for us. Do you harbor any expectations that, upon reflection, are probably unrealistic for your life? Does the inner you (who still feels about 32 but is closer to 72) still harbor the expectation of Olympic Gold or a Pulitzer Prize? Or is it subtler than that? Do you expect your family and friends to agree with you or at least to be persuaded by your erudite arguments? Do you expect to keep you house perfectly? Do you expect your business to never suffer a downturn? Do you expect that new tube of makeup you bought on line to actually substitute for a scalpel? Do you expect gratitude from those that you seek to serve? Do you expect the church to look like the inner church of your dreams with bursting pews and angelic choruses? One of the things that is wily about expectations is that the more we cling to them the more likely we are to miss what God is actually doing in the moment. What God is actually doing is always more winsome, beautiful, and well suited to our needs than our imagining. Today I invite you to pause for a moment and think of expectations that you hold that may be unrealistic. (This is not, of course, to deny that God does miracles. In my experience, however, those miracles are rarely actually expected.)Consider your expectations. Do any of them consume too much energy or leave you dissatisfied and feeling unfulfilled? How would it feel to let go of some of those expectations? What would you lose? What would you gain? When you are ready, choose one or two expectations to release to God’s safe keeping. You might pray, “I don’t need that false image of myself. That’s not me. I release it to you, Lord. I am making room for Alleluias. Thank you.” Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”

Prayer: Gracious God, I thank you for the capacity to look forward in holy expectation of good things that you always bring. Help me today to let go of any expectations that are not of you and not for the good of all. Use my newly freed heart today to rejoice in each moment as it comes. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

February 21 – Letting Go of Self-Doubt and Indecision

To come to realize that, as revealed at his baptism, Jesus was God’s beloved son and God was well pleased with him, must have taken a bit of reflection. Just because the church claims that Jesus was sinless, does not mean that he never made a mistake, missed and opportunity or hit his finger with a hammer in his carpentry shop and expressed his displeasure! Even if he did none of those things, even a casual reading of the gospels shows us that he learns and grows as his ministry progresses. A women with a sick child changes his mind by her arguments. (Mark 7:24-29) He learns that he can’t trust all the ones who show initial enthusiasm as he leans forward for Judas’ kiss of betrayal. (Mark 14:43-50) At this early point in his story, when all of those instances lie in his future, he must surely have wondered if he was really the One. If he was really the Right One.  He must have wondered if he could really make the decisions that were called for and if he could trust the decisions that he made. Perhaps one of the Spirit’s tasks before the devil shows up with his wily ways, was to help Jesus come to trust himself and his decisions. To do that he had to let go of any powerful self-doubt that his human nature might have raised in him. Otherwise, the cross would have been insurmountable. Self-doubt and indecision can leave us vacillating and immobilized in our lives as well. Whether it is wondering about a major purchase, or whether we can handle a new job, or whether our parenting decisions are sound, or whether it is safe to resume life in a pandemic changed world, we too can get stuck, afraid that any decision we make will be the wrong one.

Just as the Spirit was with Jesus in the wilderness, so too the Spirit is with us today. In that sense we are not alone in our decision making and indeed, relatively few decisions are irreversible. Today I invite you to consider any decisions with which you are struggling. Why are you struggling? Do you need more facts or just more confidence? If the latter, take a moment to imagine your self-doubt as a stone in your shoe. Imagine taking off your shoe and removing the stone. Ask yourself where it came from. How did you acquire it? Look at it from all angles and prayerfully say, “I don’t need to doubt myself and stay stuck. That’s not me. I release it to you, Lord. I am making room for Alleluias. Thank you.” Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”


Prayer: Dear God, sometimes indecision and self-doubt make us miserable and leave us useless to you and others. Today we release those feelings and trust in your guidance in all things. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

February 22 – Letting go of Self-Defeating Patterns of Thought 

Perhaps this tendency was not one with which Jesus wrestled. Although we can imagine that in the Garden of Gethsemane when he begged his friends to pray with him, and his father to relieve him of the burden of what was surely coming, he might have been stuck in a loop of fearful thoughts about suffering and death. Many of us get stuck in those kinds of loops too. We go over and over a possible negative outcome to a situation. We second guess everyone and their motives. Our inner dialogue can be as simple as “I’m getting weaker.” “I’m afraid my money won’t last as long as I do.” “He is cruel and will never change.” “She only cares about herself.” “The country is on a downhill slide.” “There is no hope.” There is no end to the list of negativities that we often entertain in our minds every day. The apostle Paul reminds us that the route to true salvation is by changing the way we think. He says that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:12) What most of us have learned in our lives is that what we think about is what rules us. What we think about obsessively creates our life. It takes a concerted long-term determination to break the hold of negative thought patterns on our lives. It is hard, especially when those around us are locked in negativity as well. Even if that is not the case, the world in which we live certainly gives more air time to our bad news than our good news. What we give attention to is what grows. Today, pause for a moment and ask God to show you any negative thought patterns that you may not even notice anymore. Look at that pattern carefully. What are its roots? Who taught it to you? What does it seek to hide or to protect you from? To release these patterns of thought is not a one-time thing. It requires a choice to turn from them every day. If you are ready to start, prayerfully say, “I don’t need those thoughts. That’s not me. I release it to you, Lord. I am making space for Alleluias. Thank you.” Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”

Prayer: Dear God, in every moment and in all things, turn my mind and heart toward you. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.

February 23 – Letting Go of the Fear of Being Alone 

It is hard for me to imagine that Jesus ever wrestled with the fear of being alone. After all, he was a constant part of the God head which is, as the heart of the Trinity teaches us, always and ultimately about relationship. But when I look at Jesus in his agony in Gethsemane, when he begs his friends to stay awake with him and pray, I wonder if in his humanness he shared a bit of the fear of being alone that many of us feel from time to time. What lies behind that fear, or at least that discomfort? Is it that we feel fearful that something might happen that we could not handle on our own? Is it that we do not really enjoy our own company? Is it that we sometimes use the presence or demands of others to give shape and meaning to our lives and we don’t know how to allow that shape and meaning to arise from within us? Do we just love the people in our lives so much that when they are gone we grieve? Is it that we have allowed our relationships to be our true north, the set point toward which everything else points, to such an extent that our inner compass is skewed without them, and we can’t find our way home? Do we just need the simple support of a loving sounding board when all around us seems to be coming apart at the seams? Maybe a bit of all of that. At any rate, whatever drives us, just as with Jesus, the Spirit knows that time apart and alone creates a kind of spiritual alchemy that allows different elements of our lives to come into focus, combine and become a new whole. One of the great movements of the spiritual life is from loneliness to solitude. Loneliness is filled with fear and absence. On the other hand, solitude is filled with Presence and movement. There can sometimes be anguish in solitude because pain and loss are a part of who we are and that becomes clear in solitude, but there is rarely a sense of abandonment or devastation. Rather, solitude emerges as solid and trustworthy and filled with consolations. Today, I invite you to consider whether or not you are fearful of being alone. What do you think lies at the heart of that fear? Try to find a space of time in the day when you can go apart and actually be alone. What is the mind chatter that dominates at first? How does it feel in your body? If fears arise, or even discomfort, then just notice that. You don’t need to engage with it or fix it. In prayer, take those fears to God and say “I don’t need that fear. That’s not me. I release it to you, Lord. I am making space for Alleluias. Thank you.” Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”

Prayer: Gracious God, you are ever present with us and we are grateful. Help us today to make spaces to release our fears and to rest in your abiding presence. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

February 24 – Letting Go of Shame 

Earlier we considered what it would be like to let go of the pain in our pasts. Now it is time to consider letting go of the shame than can sometimes accompany our hurts. Shame is not the same as guilt. Guilt is a feeling of sorrow, or even horror and regret, over something that we have done that was wrong and had negative consequences. Guilt, while never easy to deal with, can be dealt with through confession and sometimes reparations. Shame, on the other hand, is the deep, often unnamed, feeling of sorrow, not for what we have done, but for who we are. Shame is what happens when we come to feel that we are somehow defective at our core. This, too, can be dealt with but it is harder and often less straightforward because it is often not specific. Nor is it something that has a fix like confession or reparation. Dealing with shame is a process of releasing the layers of lies about ourselves and finding beneath those layers what is true and beautiful. While Jesus surely felt hurt in his journey, there is no indication that he ever felt shame. But we do, and if we are to embrace our lives and missions then that shame is often must be released so that it does not define or confine us. Take a moment today to consider whether or not you feel any shame about yourself, not guilt for wrong actions, but rather a general sense that you are somehow wrong, that you are broken or unfit, just because you are you. If you can identify any of that, ask yourself where is the root of that feeling. Does a particular instance come to mind? Take a moment to look at that incident. Don’t re-inhabit it. Just observe it. It is of the past and cannot hurt you anymore. Just notice. When you are ready, in prayer say “I don’t need that shame. That’s not me. I release it to you, Lord. I am making room for Alleluias. Thank you.” Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”

Prayer: Gracious God, help us today to release any shame that holds us captive and lies to us about your never-ending love for us. Heal us that we may be your healers in the world. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

February 25 – Letting Go of Meeting Your Needs in Wrong Ways

After his Spirit led days of fasting in the wilderness, during which Jesus was tempted in general ways, the devil approached him with specific tests. Remember that in the Bible when we talk about ‘the devil’ we are talking about more than Satan. The devil is a representation of all that seeks to divert us from the path of life, love and faithfulness. Whether we think of him as a personified creature like a fallen or rebellious angel, or as an amalgamation of broken human tendencies that coalesce to do evil, the devil never has our best interest at heart. This is true even when the tests or lures seem to give us what we want or need. A key to identifying the devil is lies. The devil always lies and produces more lies. These lies can be especially alluring when we are weakened or needy. It is always our hungers that the devil attacks first, whether that it for love, security, acclaim, safety or sustenance. It is interesting in Jesus’ testing that the devil begins by enticing him to meet a real need, food, by an immoral means. The devil tempts Jesus to demonstrate that he is the Son of God by turning a stone into a loaf of bread. This was a test of the ego. Would he do what the devil suggested and thereby meet both his need for food and to declare his special status? Jesus refused but maybe sometimes we don’t. Can you think of a time when you took a sketchy short cut to get something you wanted or needed? Can you think of a time when you put your values in your back pocket in order to look good to someone else? In what areas are you most prone to unholy compromise in your life? Where are your temptations strongest? What is it that you are really trying to get if you succumb to those temptations? Take a moment to think of an example of when you tried to meet a hunger in your life the wrong way. What happened? What did you learn about your go to tendencies to short cuts? When you are ready, take those tendencies to God in pray saying, “I don’t need that short cut. That’s not me. I release it to you Lord. I am making room for Alleluias. Thank you. Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”

Prayer: Gracious God, help us today to live mindfully. Remind us that you meet our needs and we need look no further than you for our sustenance.

February 26 – Letting Go of Easy Answers

When the devil confronted Jesus with the route to meet his need for bread and to display his true identity, he did that, as he often still does, by offering Jesus easy answers to a complex situation. Yes, Jesus was famished but his hunger was purposeful. He had been sent to it by the Spirit. Was it time to break his fast? If it had been the Spirit would have offered food no strings attached. Was it time for Jesus to test his powers to get what he wanted or needed? He didn’t think so. Jesus rightly knew that to say yes to the devil’s challenge would mean accepting an easy answer to a very complex problem. Sometimes we are tempted in the same way. We have a worthy goal or a legitimate need and yet route to meet that goal or need seems too long and arduous. Isn’t there an easier way to meet our needs, we wonder. Isn’t there some trick or key to fill our hearts, meet our hungers, fill our pews? The desire for an easy way to meet our needs leads to many a corrupt practice, broken relationship, or shallow faith practice. Easy answers can sometimes come in the form of platitudes or old beliefs that stop us from going deeper. When we find ourselves looking for an easy way out of our situations, especially if those situations have been Spirit led in the first place, it is rarely the guidance of the Spirit to which we are turning. One of the favorite wiles of the devil is the lure of the easy, pain free, effortless answer. Can you think of a time when you may have felt drawn to an easy answer to a complex problem? Can you think of a time when you tried to get a deep hunger filled by a wrong means? If you can think of an instance, what was the hunger really? What did you choose to do to meet that need? How did that work out? When you are ready, see if you can identify a theme or easy platitude that you turn to when you feel swamped by your needs. Take this to God in prayer saying, “I don’t need that too easy answer. That is not me. I release it to you, Lord. I am making room for Alleluias. Thank you. Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”

Prayer: Gracious God, only in you and in your way do we find the answers we seek. Only in you are our hungers met. Help us today to accept no substitutes. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

February 27 – Letting Go of the Need to Win

Years ago, after the University of Alabama’s legendary football coach, Bear Bryant, retired and died six months later, Bama’s football program entered into a period of turmoil and languishing. We lost a lot of games and an almost equal number of head coaches. During that period, to my chagrin, I learned that it was not actually football that I liked. It was winning. In one way or another most of us like to win. Whether it is an argument around the supper table, a candidate at the polls, an award at work, or simply being chosen as a partner in life. We are built with the desire to win on some level, or at least to be right and worthy. The problem comes when our desire to win becomes out of hand competitiveness that really doesn’t care about much of anything but being better than someone else. The desire to win can sometimes carry the desire for affirmation, the longing to be singled out as special, more special, most special. It is perfectly natural and a good thing to desire to be recognized for sharing ones gifts lavishly and well. It becomes a problem when the motivation behind the sharing is to somehow be a cut above others. This is a hard temptation to address in our culture where competitiveness and exceptionalism are built into the fabric of our way of life. It is not built into the fabric of the kingdom, however, and therein the problem lies. That need can lead to some pretty awful places. It can wreck relationships, communities, and nations. When winning is everything then others become nothing. They only serve the purpose of our winning. In the wilderness, did Jesus have to face his need to best the devil? Probably not. It doesn’t seem that it was in his nature although he certainly worked hard at winning some of his most enduring rabbinical debates. Still, whether Jesus wrestled with this one or not, many of us do from time to time. This is especially true in divided times when we all have sides and stick with them even if it kills us. Can you think of a time when winning or being right became a problem for you? What was the outcome? Have you ever been on the receiving end of someone else’s need to win or be right at your expense? What was that like? If you can sense the capacity for out-of-control competitiveness that harms you or others, take that to God in prayer saying, “I don’t need to always win. That’s not me. I release that to you, Lord. I am making room for Alleluias. Thank you.” Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”

Prayer: God of grace help us today to release any out of hand competitiveness that hampers our lives and relationships. Increase in us the certainly that we are all one, all loved, and you are our source of life and esteem. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

February 28 – Letting Go of Perfectionism

We all want to be the best version of ourselves. We want to live true and authentic lives filled with love, joy, peace, compassion, and security. Mercifully, much of the time with the help of the Spirit we are able to do that. One of the quickest ways I know of drawing away from our best selves and lives is to fall into the trap of perfectionism. This can be tricky because a spirit of perfectionism can easily masquerade as dedication to excellence. Those are not the same thing, but they can look like the same thing sometimes. Perfectionism is the driving desire to insist that we, those around us, and even our environment must meet our standards of perfection at all times. If they do not then we can feel that we or they are broken or worthless. Or at least incomplete and a source of anxiety rather than gratitude. Spiritually speaking, perfectionism has its roots in a confusion about who is God and who is not. Lost in perfectionism we unconsciously come to believe that we are responsible, in control and masters of our own universes. When we, or that which we try to control, do not comply we are distraught and miserable. It can be no other way because in reality we are not our own creators. We are not masters of the universe. We can barely master our own reactions on a good day. Thinking that we should be able to live our lives or even moments perfectly is a sure way to misery. Especially because perfection is a perpetually a moving target. We desire the perfect home, get it just like we want it, and suddenly find that we think it is not right at all. We want to make a perfect presentation and work on it until we can hardly think of anything else and when we pause a beat too long on one fact, we beat ourselves up for days. We want to create a perfect loving family life and obsess about each detail only to come unglued at the breakfast table and throw the pancakes across the room. Perfection is not ours for the grabbing. Perfectionism is thinking that it is. Now, granted, the scripture tells us the Jesus calls us to ‘be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect.’ That is an unfortunate translation that has led to millennia of pain and sorrow. The word used there is not the word for ‘without flaw.’ It is the word for wholeness, or completeness. Jesus wants us to live as the whole and complete creatures that we are, just as the God does. Wow. We are not asked to be flawless. We asked to fully be who we are. Can you identify a tendency to perfectionism in yourself? Do you deride yourself mercilessly for your failings? Do you rarely feel satisfied with the way things are? Do you rarely feel satisfied with the way you are? Has perfectionism had an effect on your relationships or well-being? If so, changing this pattern may be a challenge but it can be done. When you are ready, take a moment to quiet your heart and mind and go to God in prayer saying, “I do not need this perfectionism. It is not me. I release it to you, Lord. I am making room for Alleluias. Thank you.” Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”

Prayer: Gracious God, we are so grateful that you love us just as we are. Help us, today, grounded in your love, to live wholly and completely. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

February 29 – Letting Go of Transactional Prayer 

Often, before I even get out of bed, I begin my day by praying for my two precious granddaughters.  My prayers for my granddaughters often are very specific. “Please God, keep them safe. Do not let the family get covid. Make sure that they wear their jackets. Don’t let them get stung by a bee. Please find them a house they can afford. Don’t let the girls be bullied at school. Don’t let them become bullies. Please let them come for a visit this year.” Those dear prayers, I am certain God relishes and honors. There is, however, another way to pray. It is a way that is not as fraught with drama or confusion when answers are different from requests. Most of the prayers we pray are transactional in nature. Dear God please do this or that for us or others. Heal someone. Comfort someone. Find a job for someone. Take someone off a destructive path. Those kind of prayers. They are wonderful intimate prayers. They are always prayers that are framed by our own perceptions of what is right and best for ourselves and others. Sometimes we do not know what is right and best. Sometimes we have no idea what God is up to. Sometimes we really just want God to hop to and do what we want. Sometimes we want God to be like a fortune teller at a carnival where we drop in a coin and receive a card that says you have been granted three wishes. Mercifully God is not as much transactional with us as relational. In the mystery of God’s grace when our transactional prayers align with the greatest good for all involved, they are met with the kind of yeses that we recognize and celebrate. Other times when the outcomes do not come as we intend or desire, God still answers with the great yes of accompaniment. Sometimes when I don’t have a clue as to what is right and best for those I love, or for myself, I pray in a visual way. I imagine the person as a beautiful small pottery cup. Then I see in my mind’s eye, God filling that cup with all the goodness and love that God has ever felt for that person. The cup completely overflows with that limitless grace. In those times my prayer is no longer transactional. I am not asking for something. I am witnessing something. I am in the midst of something. A part of something that God is already and always doing. This type of prayer, at least for me, brings a profound sense of joy and fulfillment because it bypasses my ego almost completely. If you would like to release the idea, for just a moment, that prayer is primarily transactional, I invite you to go to God now, as an empty vessel. One by one release your worries or needs. You might say, “I don’t need you to do anything for me that you are not already doing. I release all need to you, Lord. I am making space for Alleluias. Thank you.” Then hold your empty heart up to God and watch the love pour in and fill you to the brim. Close your reflection by saying aloud, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;…because you are precious in my sight, and honored and I love you…Do not fear for I am with you.”

Prayer: Gracious God, I open my heart and life to you today. Fill me with all the best that you have for me and do the same for all those I love. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen.