Pain and agony

Our church joins with another local church to produce a lenten devotional—different people reflect on different passages and then all the reflections are published together, each one prefaced by its scripture.

I mentioned before that I had been asked to write one of the devotionals for that packet. I tweeted that it was killing me. I may have tweeted that more than once.

Seriously, writing the little 300-350 word reflection was pure agony. I spent hours on it, and I have four word documents to prove it. I was a mess. I first wrote too expansively, then I wrote too narrowly, and then I realized that I had no idea what the scripture meant anyway. I called my friend and forced her to argue out the passage with me. I went on a walk with my sister-in-law and we talked it out from different angles. I called my mother, repeatedly.

My mother, the Cut-n-Slash Queen, and I struck a deal: she would not look at anything written until the devotional was completed, at which point she would just do a quick edit. That way she wouldn’t get all caught up in my ever-shifting verbosity. Even without any written words between us, our phone conversations were painful. She would, more likely than not, strip my carefully constructed ideas down to nothingness, except, maybe, for one little idea that she thought might have potential. “Write about that,” she’d say. “You might have something there.”

I talked about my failed attempts at service. I talked about how the most effective service springs from my desires and interests. I questioned the basics—like whether or not there is any point in helping poor people at all. I talked about love feasts versus fasting and sweet rolls versus brown bread. I talked about Zoloft, foster kids, relief kits, my mild eating disorder, and my Fabric Phobia. I started to wonder if I was missing Isaiah’s point all together.

And it was then that my idea was born: I would write a letter to Isaiah and ask him my questions! Who said I had to have the answers, anyway?

I’m including the letter here. If you want, you can pretend you’re Isaiah and answer my questions yourself. I would enjoy that. (For background, read Isaiah 58:1-12.)


Dear Isaiah,

With all due respect, this scripture doesn’t make much sense to me. I’ve never dressed in sackcloth, I hate fasting, and praying out loud just isn’t my style. Despite the occasional well-planned good deed, I consider myself to be rather selfish. I help other people because I want them to appreciate me.

Just this past December I made dinner for a local homeless shelter. It was to be our Family Christmas Present For Jesus. My kids helped plan the menu and came along to the shelter to cut the cake and wash the dishes, but I did most of the grunt work. Despite the stress and messy kitchen, I had fun. I even got a little giddy watching the guests scarf down my food.

Now according to you, our little feed-the-poor event was true worship, but I don’t know about that. I had ulterior motives: I wanted to introduce my children to another sector of our community, and cooking is something that energizes me. And guess what? I got my ego stroked and felt rather proud of myself (in a humble sort of way).

I’m wondering, Isaiah. In some circumstances, might our good deeds become false worship? Or does the fact that we are helping others negate such wickedness?

And one more thing: are you saying that community service counts more than one’s everyday moil and toil? If so, I’m in serious trouble because most of my life revolves around hanging up the laundry, teaching my children how to put their shoes away, and resolving innumerable spats with my husband. Isn’t every part of life supposed to be worship?

So anyway, Isaiah, I’m not sure I catch your drift. But I do know that cooking that dinner was such a blast that I just might have to do it again sometime soon.



  • Jennifer Jo


    a. I HATE sewing. It makes me want to curl up in a fetal position and suck my thumb.

    b. Blondies are brownies without the chocolate. They're wicked.

    c. No, that wasn't my mother, but whoever it was makes a good point.

  • Unknown

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  • It's me ...Mavis

    Holy Cannoli… whoever anonymous is hit the nail on the head! Wow… I like it!

    …wait a second… I bet that was your Mom… It's worded perfectly. Ha Ha Ha

  • Anonymous

    Giving altruistically via what brings you joy and happiness — preparing food and loving it— fed both body and soul of those who recieved — they gave back to you by enjoying every morsel of food, nourishing your soul.
    expressions of gratitude and gratefullness went both ways — worship doesn't get any better than that! what a tremendous example for children – who learn so much thru life experiences.

  • It's me ...Mavis

    I like how you answered a question with a question… those are the best kind of answers!

    1) I just googled Zoloft… and hey…it treats OCD…who knew? But I kinda like having OCD… after all we all have our quirks.

    2) What's the deal with your fabric phobia? (have you ever worn smart wool?)

    3) I don't think there is any harm in finding "joy" out of helping others… If we felt we HAD TO HELP OTHERS… it wouldn't be as much fun as WANTING to help others…

    What is a Blondie? (twitter)

  • You Can Call Me Jane

    Well done and said. I mean, asked.

    I'm going to need to get may hands on one of those devotionals this year- I always appreciate them.

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