The views expressed here are those of each individual devotion writer. Thank you to our writers for their contributions to this ministry!

Friday, May 29, 2020

Psalm 139

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
 You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
 Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

You hem me in, behind and before,

    and lay your hand upon me.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

If I take the wings of the morning

    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

    and your right hand shall hold me.
 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”

even the darkness is not dark to you;

    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother's womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.

 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;

in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you.

 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
    O men of blood, depart from me!
 They speak against you with malicious intent;
    your enemies take your name in vain.
 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
 I hate them with complete hatred;
    I count them my enemies.

 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Holy Bible Acronym

The Holy Bible Acronym tells a great story. We recently were called to our 91-year-old brother’s bedside and I was able to talk to him about Jesus, our Savior. He asked Jesus into his heart as I talked with him.

Christians are blessed to have the Bible which gives us history, prophecy, and the story behind Jesus’s love and his saving grace. We know we will be in heaven together. I cannot fathom how fearful it would be to lose someone without believing God’s truth. 

Sandra Hilsabeck

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Count My Blessings?

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. Luke 18:1 

And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?   Luke 18:7 

Usually when I wake up during the night, I am eager to thank God for giving me time to pray. However, sometimes I am not ready to count my blessings. I feel a need to first vent my fears and frustrations. 

"Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)" is a popular song written by Irving Berlin and used in the 1954 film White Christmas. It is commonly performed as a Christmas song, although the lyrics make no reference to the December holiday. In the movie, Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney sang it. 

“When I’m worried and I can’t sleep.

I count my blessings instead of sheep

and I fall asleep counting my blessings.”

The song arose from a personal experience of Berlin when his doctor suggested he try "counting his blessings" as a way to deal with insomnia brought on by stress.  As he says in the lyrics, “sometime ago, after the worst kind of a sleepless night, my doctor came to see me and after a lot of self-pity, belly-aching and complaining about my insomnia, he looked at me and said ‘speaking of doing something about your insomnia, did you ever try counting your blessings?’" The sentimental theme reminds listeners to remember how much they are blessed instead of fretting about short-term problems.

Prayer: Dear God, remind me to daily count my blessings.  I know that you are always with me and walk with me each day. Amen.

Lois Poppe

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Grateful for Laughter

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief. Proverbs 14:33

I have found during the challenging times of this novel coronavirus that I need more opportunities for comic relief. This could be a silly joke (I love those!), or a quarantine parody on You Tube, a little time with a cheesy mystery or 30 minutes with a familiar sitcom. It feels odd to seek out a laugh during this time, but honestly, after a long day dealing with serious and truly life altering issues, when I get home I need a little break.  

I know that I am lucky.  Even in the moments when I am tired and frustrated I am glad to be able to work, while so many are without jobs or are working limited hours, or earning limited wages I have had a work commitment every day for the last few months. When I haven’t worked from the hospital, I have worked from home. I have done this with the disruption of two basset hounds who believe that their needs should be placed above all others, but again, I am lucky, I am not trying to juggle work with home schooling. My husband has been home all but one week of the outbreak and this too is lucky, I have not had to spend endless hours worrying about him becoming infected.

Recently, talking to a friend we confessed the things that we are missing and the experiences we long for. We are grieving and aching for our normal lives back, and we have no timeline, and no clear indication of when that will be. We talked about how people are coming together to bring each other joy. Italians, singing their national anthem from their balcony’s, musicians performing live concerts, or releasing original concert footage to fan club members to have a concert experience from home, touching messages from advertising executives, replays of memorable sporting events (an entire Nebraska Athletics day!), community art, drive by parties and a focus on being a good friend and neighbor.  

I am so happy and lucky to be in a community and a world where God’s love is so visible and present. Where even amidst our human suffering, there are so many people working together to get through this and lift us up.

Prayer: God who watches over us, thank you for giving us moments of laughter and joy during this dark time in our earthly experience. Help us to remember and be grateful for all the gifts we have. We are tremendously blessed. 

Christi Moock

Friday, May 22, 2020

Spring in God's World

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17
Martha Mankkas-Foster states in her devotion in my NIV Women’s Devotional Bible that, “It is only by focusing on the One whose creation surrounds us and brings us peace that we can do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

Thank goodness after 45 or more days in the stay-at-home mode during the coronavirus, spring is here. Every day I walk out and something else is blooming. I watered the strawberries and asparagus along with the daisies last evening and I believe they grew 4 inches last night. April has been such a dry month. 

The miracle of plants surviving throughout the cold winters of Nebraska always brings me to believe in God as the creator of all.

Prayer: Dear Lord, please help those who don’t see the beauty of the flowers, those who walk right by and those who deny you designed all. Amen  

Sandra Hilsabeck (flower photos below courtesy of Sandra)

Thursday, May 21, 2020

May the Lord Do So

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Pandemic Poem

What if you thought of it

as the Jews consider the Sabbath—

the most sacred of times?

Cease from travel.

Cease from buying and selling.

Give up, just for now,

on trying to make the world

different than it is.

Sing. Pray. Touch only those

to whom you commit your life.

Center down.

And when your body has become still,

reach out with your heart.

Know that we are connected

in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.

(You could hardly deny it now.)

Know that our lives

are in one another’s hands.

(Surely, that has come clear.)

Do not reach out your hands.

Reach out your heart.

Reach out your words.

Reach out all the tendrils

of compassion that move, invisibly,

where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love--

for better or for worse,

in sickness and in health,

so long as we all shall live.

~ Lynn Ungar, shared by Carolyn Brandle via Eastridge Neighborhood Association

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Strange Times

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever.  1 Peter 5:6-7, 10-11

What a time we’re living through.  The ripple effects of the pandemic have reached everywhere.  We’ve been asked to stay home.  Stores have closed to encourage people to stay home.  The store’s employees then have reduced income.  With reduced income, they may not be able to pay rent or buy food.  More people are seeking help from the Food Bank, which has to operate with fewer volunteers who may be in the at-risk group.  If a family has less income, church pledges may not be paid.  So churches have to determine how to keep providing spiritual leadership on a reduced budget, while not being able to bring worshipers together in one location.  The tentacles of the virus reach all aspects of life.

Even our language has been impacted.  Who had heard of terms like “social distancing,” “shelter in place,” “COVID-19,” or “contactless delivery” prior to the last few months?

It’s strange to realize that people all over the country are staying home, too.  Many talk shows are being aired from the host’s home, and they are doing interviews by Facetime or through a Zoom meeting.  There is no studio audience to react to the jokes.  Many of us have had to learn enough about technology that we can see our family’s faces or take part in a virtual happy hour. 

The pandemic has also brought out the best in many people.  There are numerous stories about neighbors getting groceries for neighbors, teachers driving by their students’ houses as a way to keep in touch, companies changing course to make masks or gowns for hospitals.

There are many unknowns—how long will we need to stay home? Will my family be safe?  When will we be able to hug a friend again?  

We may never understand the reason this has occurred, but one sure thing we can know:  God is with us and will help us get through this crisis.  Our world may look different when we get to the other side, but He will be there.  

Prayer: Dear Lord, We place ourselves in your mighty hand. Help us to turn over our anxiety to you because you care for us. We feel your grace and know that you will restore us and make us strong, firm and steadfast. Amen.

Robin Hadfield

Monday, May 18, 2020

A Sign

“I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” Genesis 9:13-16

He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.  He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him. Genesis 8:10-12

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. Matthew 3:16

I feel overwhelmed when the television, radio, newspapers and social media relay the numbers of positive cases and those who have died from Covid19.  I worry not only about those infected but those who have been depressed from being isolated, worrying about friends and family. Those financially destroyed because of this disease.  One thing that makes it even more difficult is I see no end.  Where is my rainbow, where is my dove, why can’t I see a sign? 

Then I read the scriptures and listen to the hymns. Remembering He gave his only Son so that I may be saved! Then I count my blessings, sometimes it starts with He got me up this morning for another day of life! Count family and friends...and all that I have.  Pretty soon I can find myself singing with the music, the verses of His word running through my thoughts.  

I start to feel the strength that I have prayed for. Then just as a special reminder to me God sends me a sign. I see the baby calves across the road, I have seen a baby woodchuck and then four baby foxes. He Lives! The renewal—new birth!  I then look around and see all He has created. 

Prayer: Dear Father in Heaven: thank you for forgiving our sins, for loving us even when we let fear into our lives. Thank you for continuing in showing us the way through the darkness. Give us the vision to continue to see all the wonderful things you are continuing to create. Bless and protect us with your loving hands. 

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom and power and the glory forever AMEN!

Lori Hood  (picture below shared by Lori)

Friday, May 15, 2020

Jesus Loves Me

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. Daniel 12:2-3

What we do when we don't realize we are doing it will come back to us as we reap what we sow. I had two instances this week of sowing the good news about Jesus without even knowing it.

1. My little sister told me I was the first person to tell her Jesus will come back. I said, "What, I didn't know that." She said, "We were west of the corral, west of the tree patch and just east of the little ditch that ran through our pasture. We were riding on our horse 'Queenie' and bringing the cattle home. I was riding behind you and holding onto you as we gathered up the cattle. We saw the most beautiful sunset. You pointed it out to me and said to me that must be how it will look when Jesus comes back."

2.  I went to see our two-year-old twin great grandsons last fall and opened the piano to find the music to "Jesus Loves Me." I immediately sat down, put the twins up beside me and started playing and singing this favorite song of mine. Now, in April, my daughter sent me a Facetime video of them playing the keys and singing "Jesus Loves Me." I asked my daughter where they learned that song. She said they learned it from me! How could they remember that from six months ago? Then Colton came onto the Facetime screen and asked if I could come to Kansas City tomorrow and play and sing it with them again. I won't be able to drive there because of a snow storm and Covid 19; but I sure would have if I could have. Their singing warmed my heart and I am sure Jesus heard it too.

Prayer: Dear Lord, please continue to remind us that we are being listened to even when we do not know it. Thank you for showing me that I had spread some of your light and righteousness. Thank you for the sunsets and for the beautiful songs that you have given me to pass along. Amen.

Sandra Hilsabeck

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Prayer Life

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Romans 8:26

Call to me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know. Jeremiah 33:3

Then he spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart. Luke 18:1

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon you. In the day if my trouble I will call upon You, for You will answer me. Psalm 85:5, 7

Pray without ceasing. In everything giving thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18

My last year of serious heart issues, marked by the need for trust in and patience with medical care, setbacks, and unforeseen trials; has found me desperate to pray, yet very much lacking any structure to do so. I was often more desperate than guided. 

While I am now making good strides in my recovery, I have developed some serious digestive issues which are impeding my ability to gain weight and strength. Then came the Pandemic, the spread of a deadly disease, which filled our nation and world with economic and health turmoil and much fear and anxiety. 

And I still was floundering in my prayer life. Unexpected help came from our very own Reverend John Duling who shared that he begins his daily prayer with confessing his sins.

Direction, guidance!  Thank you John, God, and the Holy Spirit for starting me on a structure that feels so good. God, whose Son suffered and died to forgive our sins and earn Salvation for us, can use His Unending mercy to forgive my daily mistakes, sins, shortcomings. He can help me with self awareness, honesty, and personal growth, like no other source of help can.  

I was on my way but decided I needed to turn to the ultimate source of guidance available to me always, God’s Word. The above verses presented me with new purposes for my prayers. I decided thanks was next in line and began to commit to thanking God for different Blessings daily. I am so Blessed! So, in Everything give thanks!

Of course, I was already very good about petitioning for help. I began to focus more on trusting and not losing heart. I am trying to give my needs to God and lose some of my control.  (That’s a life long process!). 

Listening is also now part of my prayer life, often extending throughout my day. I don’t want to miss out on the great and mighty things God has to show me. And, I want to know Him and focus on a commitment to a growing, intimate relationship with Him.

And, when I am lost again and so overwhelmed that I cannot formulate my own prayers, I know that the Holy Spirit will take over for me.

My desire for structure and routine has now made its way into my prayer life. It is a process which means it will evolve and change just as life does. And some days I will do better than on other days.

Prayer: Father God, we long for daily time with you to seek your mercy and forgiveness for our shortcomings and to listen for your guidance. We want to always thank you for our many blessings and continue to ask for your help with situations and for those we love who are suffering. Guide us to continue to turn to you daily and grow in our relationship with you. 

Connie Barry 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020


"Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you." Jeremiah 29:12

Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. Matthew 18:19 

I have heard the word ‘essential’ in the last few months numerous times listing it only as doctors, medical staff, emergency crew, fireman, truckers and grocery store staff. 

I know that God has named all of us as essential.  He loves us all.  One of my favorite movies is “It’s A Wonderful Life”. It demonstrates so perfectly that without even one of us life would be so different.  

During this time I have kept in contact with friends and co-workers and more than once it became apparent they didn’t feel essential. I find that while they are isolated they forget they mean so much to so many people.  

Every doctor has someone supporting them by moral support, taking care of family while they are away, bringing food, and so much more. Each of those listed as essential have others who have assisted in their lives. 

What can I do?  I say pray for those in high demand right now, pray for their families, pray for those who are sick. Prayer in numbers.  

There are many tasks that we can do: sew masks, print masks, provide food, but remember that prayer is the essential need for all of us. And with prayer we will bring God into our world.   

Prayer: Dear Father in Heaven please protect all of us as we try to find the meaning at this difficult time.  Heal those who are sick.  Give strength to those whose lives are now in such high demand.  Guide those leading the government to do your will.  Help those in fear to find the faith and trust in you as they may never have done before.  Love us as you always have, even when we stray.  Thank you Father for giving us what we need and for giving us your son to save us all.  In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Lori Hood

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

We Have a Mighty God

Then Asa called to the Lord his God and said, “Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. 2 Chronicles 14:11.  

In my devotion today I read these words from the wonderful hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

And though this world, with devils filled;
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear; for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim—We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, For lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

God’s got this, He can end this at any time, He can let us find a cure, but there must be something more for us to learn. This is a time of learning.  

Prayer: Dear Father in Heaven, you saw this coronavirus coming and your power is much greater. Thank you for keeping us safe at this time when the world is in turmoil. We ask your blessing on those of us who are confined at this time and also for those who are working even harder than ever. We are thankful Lord that you are in control of all. Amen.

Sandra Hilsabeck

Monday, May 11, 2020

Today Is the Day

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34 (NIV)

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. Matthew 6:34 (The Message)

There’s a song called “Today Is the Day” by Lincoln Brewster that includes the following lyrics:  "I’m casting my cares aside, I’m leaving my past behind, I’m setting my heart and mind on You Jesus.  I’m reaching my hand to Yours, Believing there’s so much more, Knowing that all You have in store for me is good. Today is the day You have made, I will rejoice and be glad in it; And I won’t worry about tomorrow, I’m trusting in what You say. Today is the day."

The song has struck a chord (no pun intended) with me in the past. But I reread it in light of the current crisis.  Especially the phrase, "I won't worry about tomorrow." I have to admit that I’ve spent a lot of time in the past worrying.  Usually it's about things that I have no control over anyway, so the worrying is not a good use of my time. Like the weather. Or it may be something I have at least some control over; like how I should use my money. And sometimes it's something that really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things; like what to wear to a special event. 

I’ve found myself spending a lot of time worrying lately, as many of us have.  I think it’s natural to vacillate between being anxious about the future and feeling that everything is going to be okay. I need to work on trusting in what God has to say and in setting my mind and heart on Jesus. God has made the day and everything in it, and He watches over me at all times. All He has in store for me is good.  As the scripture states, tomorrow will worry about itself.  

Prayer: Dear Lord, It's a scary time for everyone. We don’t know what the future holds. But it doesn't help to worry. The Lord has made each day, and we need to rejoice and be glad in it. God is in control and will handle our worries if we simply turn them over to him. Please forgive us for thinking we can handle everything ourselves and for wasting time worrying about the future. Help us to cast our cares aside and reach our hands to yours. Amen.

Robin Hadfield

Friday, May 8, 2020


And Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

What a powerful verse.  Our good efforts will be paid off if we do not give up..  In January our doing good may have been seen by others.  We took dinner to a friend struggling.  We shoveled snow for a neighbor, or a stranger.  We served at a mission, or a soup kitchen or at our church – surrounded by our friends, celebrating God together.

In our current pandemic it can be hard to have the endurance to continue to do good when our actions may feel compacted.  We know that staying home is the best way for the most people to do the most good right now.  It feels awkward, and counter-intuitive.  We want to help.  Take action.  Do something, anything really, to help steer ourselves and those we love away from this emergency. 

In the depths of this desire to do good, we are also suffering from a little Cabin Fever.  Or a little too much time with the loved ones who live in our homes.  And we are SCARED.  The news tells us about supply shortages and a mortality rate that does not seem possible in America.  We have watched other countries fail and thought that we were strong enough to survive.  We have been in denial about the need to protect ourselves. We have judged the actions and decisions made by others.

In a time where we have nearly every possible bit of infrastructure and technology to stay in our cocoon, we now feel nearly desperate to be out and about.  To express our freedoms.  To go people watching.  To hear live music.  To smell and see the things that we are so accustomed to in our everyday life.

This is the time that we must not grow weary.  We have to maintain our distance, we have to reduce our risk of exposure, to assure that there are supplies to care for those who are ill.  If we can, we need to stay home, as a sign of our care for one another and our focus on doing good. 

Prayer: God of great patience, help us to stay strong during this time.  We must remember that, like so many other human inconveniences, this too will pass.  Help us to worship you while we are apart and thank you for the technology that helps us to worship together. 

Christi Moock

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Prayers of the People from March 8, 2020

Caring Shepherd and Guide of My Soul, many things I want—for self and others: freedom from worry, healing from hurts, financial security, health of body and spirit, sturdy relationships, lasting happiness, an end of needless suffering and sorrow, a peaceful planet where everything thrives. You assure me that I do not have to want; you will lead me to an inner core of peace and guide me to ways that restore my spirit. Suffering will serve as a profound teacher, a catalyst of empathy and understanding that unites all who sit at the table of life. You bid me come to you, to release my fears and allow you to anoint my worries with trust, to let you lead me to your resting place where I can listen to your calm, assuring voice. No matter how dark the valley of tears, no matter how unending the turbulence, you are there with your embracing love. You are forever a reliant, caring presence. You breathe your strength into my weakness. You promise to be a peaceful haven. You are the home where I can always dwell in your abiding goodness and compassion.

Rupp, Joyce. Prayers of Boundless Compassion (p. 36). Ave Maria Press. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020


Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Psalm 103:1    

At this time of upheaval, fear of what may happen, and thoughts of family and friends we can’t interact with personally, I have yet felt very grateful and blessed by what I have and can do. I live in a wonderful neighborhood with people who watch out for me as I do for them. In our community of Lincoln, many people have been creative in serving others, sharing their love and compassion through kindness and understanding. Our church has provided ministries online and phone calls to members to check in and just visit for a few minutes. In spite of all that is happening, I feel very blessed, and thank God for the goodness He has provided.  

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gifts of family and community to help us survive this present challenge. Keep us safe and healthy for continuing your work.  Amen

Carolyn Brandle

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Heart for Self: Palm Sunday sermon, 2020

Vanessa Bohns is an associate professor of Social Pscychology at Cornell University, whose work was recently featured on the NPR podcase, The Hidden Brain. The episode is really about the unknown influence we have over other people…how we sometimes inadvertently use that power; and how we underuse that power. Many of Bohns studies involve asking students to approach strangers and ask them to perform a simple task to help them – fill out a survey, give up a seat on a train or bus. While not everyone agrees to help, Bohn finds that the student is always prepared for rejection, when in reality most people agree to help. While the whole episode is fascinating, the part that stuck out to me was the story Bohn tells about being pregnant and riding the train. At first, she says, she tried to look as desperate and tired as she could while standing on the commuter train. No one noticed. Then, feeling the aches and pains in her tired and taxed body, she asked someone if she could sit down. Shocked, the stranger immediately jumped out of their seat, and said, “of course.” Relieved, Bohns sat down, and found that the stranger had become a hero in her eyes and in theirs.

Cultivating compassion. As Joyce Rupp suggests in her book, Boundless Compassion (the inspiration for our Lenten series), compassion has three components: awareness, attitude, and action. What’s fascinating to me about Vanessa Bohns study and example of riding on the train is the compassionate act of giving a pregnant woman a seat on the commuter train takes an awareness of how the woman is feeling, an attitude of wanting to ease her suffering, and a simple action of allowing her to take a seat. A compassionate act. Awareness, attitude, action. However, while the study is really meant to study the influence the pregnant woman, or person in need, has over a stranger on the train, what I find really interesting is Vanessa Bohns insight about her own actions. After asking for the seat as a part of the study, she gave herself permission to recognize when she was tired and needed to sit down. She became aware of her own needs.

I want to be careful here, because our discussion for this morning is about self-compassion, which is different that self-indulgence or self-permission. It’s a fine line that separates a very different voice. I would humbly put before you today that we are a very self-permissive culture, but not a very self-compassionate one. We hold tightly to the value of freedom of choice, but don’t actually pay attention to ourselves, even if we have a positive self-image.

In all of the compassion books I’ve read so far, this seems to be the ultimate universal example of self-compassion: when someone is sick, particularly a friend or a family member, what do you do? Tell them to get rest, make them soup, call their boss and say they can’t make it to work today. What happens, though, when you are sick? Do you do the same thing? Tell yourself it’s okay not to go to work, lie in bed, and let someone make you soup? If you do these things, that’s great! Do you feel bad about it?

The truth is, most of us ‘should’ on ourselves. I should do better, be better, look better, love better, save money better, achieve more, have a cleaner house, be at more of children’s/grandchildren’s/nephews and nieces events. Why do you think this? Why are you hard on yourself?

Our two texts from this morning are, admittedly, horribly taken out of context…all the time. Both of them occur in the midst of a challenge by the religious establishment. In chapter 11, it’s Jesus’ beloved relative, John the Baptist, who offers the challenge. Which is weird, because John baptized Jesus, and so was there for the dove and the “You are my child, with whom I am well pleased.” But in chapter 11, John is actually questioning Jesus, whether he is the Messiah, based on Jesus’s healing and teaching. He sends disciples to ask Jesus what he is doing, essentially, which apparently prompts Jesus to reflect on his ministry. He’s frustrated here, really, as he considers his work up to this point. He starts by telling his disciples that John is a great prophet, but some think he has a demon. In the same way, “the Human one” came and although his approach was the opposite of John’s, people dismissed him. A frustrated Jesus then chides the cities that have rejected him. Finally, he turns in prayer to the Father, praising the Lord of Heaven and Earth for hiding “these things” from the intelligent and the wise, instead showing them to babies. It is then that we get the words we love to quote when we are overwhelmed: Come to be all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.

Jesus says, “let me share your load.” Anna-Case Winters, professor at McCormick Seminary, says, “Jesus issues this welcome invitation to weary, burdened people….Here again Jesus has “compassion” on “harassed and helpless” people (9:36).”1 Richard Swanson wants us to remember that Matthew is writing after the fall of the temple in Jerusalem, when the people of God are at a low point. They are oppressed, weary, burdened people. They need to find that rest.

Which is really, really, hard when you’re on the move all the time. Not in a moving house kind of way. I’m sure there was a fair amount of “life was less complicated in the desert” going around. In the desert, they learned the food came every day in the form of manna and quail, they carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord around in a tent with them, their possessions were few. Now, the ark of the covenant is nowhere, but they must still carry on with all the rituals and traditions to satisfy God. It’s a kind of longing for the “olden days when things where simpler” that we can all identify with, even though the reality is that the olden days were not any simpler or better. So these words – come to me…you who are carrying heavy loads…I will give you rest. Rest.

Fast forward 11 chapters, to chapter 22, and you’ll find our second text for this morning. Perhaps the most well known of all scriptures, Jesus’ summary of the law. The chapter is the climax of the questioning of Jesus by the Sadducees and Pharisees, which, as Richard Swanson points out, is actually a huge compliment. They find the back and forth questioning of him interesting, and are coming up with some really good questions. So it’s of special note, then, when the Pharisees ask a fairly simple question, “What is the greatest commandment.” At the time, there were 613 laws that were considered essential to faith. But there has always, only been one greatest commandment. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.” And Jesus continues, past the question, “And the second is like it, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.” Ah. There it is. The golden rule. Case-Winters points out that “Jesus is not innovating here; these are fundamentals he would have learned at his mother’s knee.”2 It’s the expected answer. But in Boundless Compassion, Joyce Rupp confesses she thinks that should be switched around. Love yourself as you love your neighbor. Or – care for yourself the way you care for your neighbor. Or – have compassion for yourself the way you have compassion for your neighbor.

Again, this is not the self indulgence we associate with a material consumer culture. And it’s not necessarily the same as self-confidence or a healthy ego. It’s not about putting yourself first, before everyone else. It’s about being aware of how you’re feeling, an attitude of compassion for those feelings, and actions that benefit all those concerned.

Here are some examples: if you’re lonely, be a friend to yourself (journaling is a great way to do this); if you’re living out of guilt, forgive yourself; if you think you might not be good enough, remind yourself that you are a beloved child of God, just the way you are. If you’re mourning, tell yourself it’s okay to be sad; if you’re frustrated that you aren’t “performing” the way you should, tell yourself your worth is not in your title or your salary.

In Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer explains how this self-acceptance can aid our spiritual growth: I now know myself to be a person with weakness and strength, liability and giftedness, darkness and light. I now know that to be whole means to reject none of it but to embrace all of it. . . . Others may say that “embracing one’s wholeness” is just fancy talk for permission to sin, but again my experience is to the contrary. To embrace weakness, liability, and darkness as part of who I am gives that part less sway over me, because all it ever wanted was to be acknowledged as part of my whole self.

Rev. Dr. Melodie Jones Pointon

 1 Case-Winters, Anna. Matthew: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Belief: a Theological Commentary on the Bible) (pp. 178-179). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
2 Case-Winters, Anna. Matthew: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Belief: a Theological Commentary on the Bible) (p. 272). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

Rupp, Joyce. Boundless Compassion (p. 44). Ave Maria Press. Kindle Edition.