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Try Joy


Third Sunday After Epiphany

SUNDAY, January 22
Isaiah 49:8-13

I immediately noticed the beautiful new Ski Natique as we crossed the Willamette River, towed by an equally shiny black Denali. My mind drifted back to younger years when my family enjoyed time on the river water skiing, floating, laughing. As we looked for pictures for Mom’s memorial service, I found one with us in the water, our legs through the arm holes of our personal flotation devices like big diapers. I’ll admit I was envious of whoever was towing that boat. But it wasn’t until I saw the license plate that my envy dissolved into snarky-ness. It read “TRY JOY.” My grief suddenly swallowed up the most common thread of humanity—pain. How could this person, in their luxurious existence, audaciously tell me to try joy? They didn’t know my circumstances.
Mom was gone. Joy left with her. 

Even in the midst of desolation, the compassionate God who calls the captives to “come out,” who says to those in darkness, “be free,” also says, “shout for joy.”

Jesus, for those of us who find ourselves captives in the darkness of grief, release us from trying to find joy. Accompany us until joy returns. AMEN.

PRAYER FOCUS: WILLINGNESS TO LISTEN TO OTHERS

Living Between Memory and Hope


MONDAY, January 23
Isaiah 49:14-18

I pulled into the driveway and noticed something had changed. Dad had pulled Mom’s car into the garage. I’ve always entered their house through the garage, but now Mom’s parked car sits there, one more reminder that she’s gone. When my sister’s car was in the shop last week, she drove Mom’s car. She’s the brave one. She found a typed Bible study sheet with a handwritten note from Mom that read “We always live between memory and hope.”

In today’s passage, Isaiah is calling God’s people to live between memory and hope, calling them to remember God’s faithfulness so they can move forward in hope. I sensed Mom, too, calling those she loves to do the same.

Jesus, help us always to live between memory and hope. Comfort us as we pray that neither memory nor hope fades with time. AMEN.

Creating Space for Grief


TUESDAY, January 24
Isaiah 9:1-4

I’ve experienced the light of the Prince of peace whom Isaiah references further in verse 6, but right now I resonate with “those living in the land of deep darkness” (v. 2, NIV). I’ve received the comfort of those who immediately acknowledge my loss with their words, embrace, and tears. I’ve also endured the silence of those who have no words or aren’t sure what to say. For those of us walking in darkness, cliché  Christian comments bring no comfort. We need space to grieve, space to lament, space to be sad. Our culture doesn’t have the desire or proficiency to enter these desolate spaces. Unfortunately, the church often doesn’t either. However, without a willingness to lament the yoke that burdens us, the bars across our shoulders and the rods of our oppressors remain shatter-proof.

Jesus, give us courage to lament. Help us to create space for ourselves and those around us to grieve. AMEN.

PRAYER FOCUS:  MIDWINTER CONFERENCE FOR COVENANT MINISTERS

Walking through Our “Whys”


WEDNESDAY, January 25
Matthew 4:12-25

In the midst of grief we ask God the universal question, “Why?” It’s a gut-wrenching question with an equally gut-wrenching response—silence. As I read about Jesus healing the sick, I can’t help but ask why not Mom? I have no answer. Maybe Matthew provides not a way around but a way through our whys.

Following Jesus requires leaving something behind. Four fishermen left behind their nets—the smell of the sea and the life they imagined in order to follow Jesus. Like those brothers, I’ve had to leave behind the life I expected in order to live the life I have. Finally married at 40, I couldn’t imagine that my depression would remain or that infertility and cancer would follow. I never imagined Mom would have a stroke on vacation and die. I can get stuck in my whys until they leave me unrepentant and blind to the glimpses of the kingdom around me. Perhaps the only way through our whys is a willingness to leave them behind.

Jesus, help us follow you through the whys with repentant lips and watchful eyes. AMEN.

Nothing Feels Normal


THURSDAY, January 26
Psalm 27:1-6

The cards have stopped arriving, donated meals have long since been eaten, and life seems to be back to “normal” all around us. And yet our lives are far from normal. They’ve been hijacked by grief and swallowed up in sadness. I’ve done quite a bit of hibernating, not wanting to spoil someone’s day by honestly answering well-intentioned questions of “How’s it going?” If I have to go out, I wear sunglasses, avoiding people when possible. When unavoidable, I answer the innocent question quickly, “Not great.” “My mom died.” I spare them the traumatic details unless they ask.

And church life is far from normal. The church we planted 11 years ago closed its doors last January. I suddenly find myself without a church home. I need the safety of his dwelling, the shelter of his sacred tent. But life is too raw to do this in a strange, unfamiliar temple. My dad and sister have returned to the tent, and in time so will I.

Jesus, for those of us outside the tent for whatever reason, be our stronghold and keep us from fear. AMEN.

PRAYER FOCUS: THOSE IN CONGREGATIONAL LEADERSHIP

 

Goodbyes Are Important…But


FRIDAY, January 27
Psalm 27:7-14

I didn’t know that two of the most influential people in my life would die within three weeks of each other. It can be tricky for a pastor to find their own pastor, but I did. Dick Lucco was my pastor. He recognized my gifts, spurred me into ministry, and invited me to preach. Cancer slowly took him, and his death was expected. Knowing it would be our last time together, we said what we wanted to say. 

But I wasn’t so lucky with Mom. Our last words were spoken in an ambulance as I straddled the gurney trying to keep it from moving side to side. Her last words were, “I don’t want to die.” I assured her she wasn’t dying. I told her over and over how much we loved her. Goodbyes are important. But they don’t define our relationships. It was all the moments Dick and Mom shared with me that allowed my grieving soul to proclaim, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (v. 13). 

Jesus, when death is devastating, help us return to the land of the living. AMEN.

The Testimony of a Joyful Servant


SATURDAY, January 28
1 Corinthians 1:1-17; 3:1-9

Mom excelled at many things, but at the top of the list would be loving and serving others. Card after card, story after story gave witness to Mom’s generosity. People wrote about her as their Bible study leader, sharing a meal she prepared, enjoying the hospitality of a baby shower or house-warming prepared just for them. Her co-chair of the deacon committee said she made serving fun. Throughout my life, I was a recipient of Mom’s service, but as a pastor I saw firsthand the impact of her love, laughter, and life on the people of Bridge Covenant Church. As one formed by God’s Word, Mom knew that God makes the seed grow. But she also understood seeds needed to be planted, watered, and loved.

Jesus, help us serve like Mom. Help us leave the quarreling behind and serve with a joyful heart. AMEN.

PRAYER FOCUS: YOUTH PASTORS AND COUNSELORS 

About the Author

  • Carmen Bensink Lewis

    When I write, my words flow from my life’s story, so this week’s reflections emerge from the trenches of grief. On a long-awaited family vacation to Mexico last spring, my mom had a stroke. She died less than three weeks later. I live in Salem, Oregon, with my husband and son. My husband and I planted Bridge Covenant Church in 2011. During Covid I stepped away from congregational ministry to help my first-grader navigate online learning. I enjoy writing, conversations on my front porch, and any body of water: ocean, lake, or river.

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