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The Price We Pay For Joy

First Reading: Esther: 12, 14-16, 23-25

Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish,
had recourse to the LORD.
She lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids,
from morning until evening, and said:
“God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you.
Help me, who am alone and have no help but you,
for I am taking my life in my hand.
As a child I used to hear from the books of my forefathers
that you, O LORD, always free those who are pleasing to you.
Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you,
O LORD, my God.

“And now, come to help me, an orphan.
Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion
and turn his heart to hatred for our enemy,
so that he and those who are in league with him may perish.
Save us from the hand of our enemies;
turn our mourning into gladness
and our sorrows into wholeness.”

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 138:1-2AB, 2CDE-3, 7C-8

R. (3a) Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple
and give thanks to your name.
R. Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.
Because of your kindness and your truth;
for you have made great above all things
your name and your promise.
When I called, you answered me;
you built up strength within me.
R. Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.
Your right hand saves me.
The LORD will complete what he has done for me;
your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.
R. Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.

Gospel: Matthew 7:7-12

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread,
or a snake when he asked for a fish?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask him.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.
This is the law and the prophets.”

NAB

feb 18

Today is my birthday. Today I turn 32, the same age my mother was when she died, twenty-five years ago. Today we read of an orphan pleading with her God for mercy and peace, and I think how very providential it is that I was tasked with writing today.

Ever since my mother’s death, the day of my birth has been met with ambivalence. A desire to draw it close around me, this day each year that commemorates the fact that I was once alive inside her—yet at the same time a burning need to push away this day that reminds me, yet again, of all I have had to live without. It is this day, more than any other, that bubbles the wellspring of grief inside of me.

Queen Esther would sympathize, well-acquainted with loss. She too was an orphan, queen of a people bereft of identity under Persian rule. She cries out to God, And now, come to help me, an orphan . . . turn our mourning into gladness and our sorrows into wholeness.” This, then, is the cry of all those who mourn. It is not an accusation hurtled heavenward, though at times it may feel so. Embracing our grief, not kicking it away, is the price we pay for God’s transformation to joy.

What I’ve learned is that when we ask God for transformation, He rarely fails to deliver tremendous opportunities for us to transform. It’s brutal and beautiful soul work that requires being willing to allow God into the depths of our pain, where He baptizes it in His ocean of mercy and love.

As Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel, Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” We have also been taught that we are blessed when we mourn, for it is then that we will be comforted. God asks us to invite Him into our grief, and it is that invitation that carries with it the seeds of transformation, and ultimately, joy.

What long buried grief can you invite God’s mercy and transformation into today? How can you comfort those around you who mourn?

Sarah Babbs is a writer and mother of three, including twin toddlers. She writes about faith, social teaching, and navigating life as a motherless daughter and mother. You can find out more about her here.

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5 Comments

  • Reply
    Janet
    February 18, 2016 at 6:20 am

    Hi Sarah.
    What chapter in Esther is the first reading taken from? Having trouble finding it in my Bible.

    Happy Birthday! Beautiful devotional. Thought provoking. I am glad God doesn’t leave us in our valley but draws us to the mountain top in a journey that transforms us for the better.

    My mom passed away 25 years ago as well. I am a few years older than you but the one thing I miss was becoming friends with my mom. I never got the chance. Although time has made grief better.

    He always makes it better!!

  • Reply
    Meghan
    February 18, 2016 at 6:24 am

    I always loved the story of Esther, not only because she was a strong woman figure in a difficult time for all women, but because she relied solely on God during times of adversity. I think that many people right now go into themselves or material things to seek comfort for their grief. I am a victim of that all the time. Yet, as it is said here, when you offer your grief or another person’s grief up to God, it rarely goes unanswered. Let us all take a page out of Esther’s book and take advantage of the loving God we have! Happy Birthday Sarah!

  • Reply
    Ann-Marie
    February 18, 2016 at 8:47 am

    Your reflection is beautiful. Today’s Psalm includes the verse I prayed through a pregnancy and miscarriage. It always holds a special place in my heart. Seeing it paired with the Esther verse about turning our sorrows into wholeness is just perfect.

  • Reply
    Nicole
    February 18, 2016 at 11:20 am

    This is my first time reading the devotions and I am so happy right now! Your reflection was beautifully written and got me thinking about what kind of transformation I need in my life. Ester is someone I need to learn more about and I am so glad that I stumbled upon this devotion today. Have a blessed birthday!

  • Reply
    Sara
    February 18, 2016 at 11:23 am

    To piggy back on what others have said… This verse was the one that spoke out to me: “When I called, you answered me;
    you built up strength within me” In Hebrew poetry, the second line always restates and furthers the first line’s thought. So here God answers by building up the strength of the Psalmist-the externals are not changed, but the internals are. Yet there are other places where the Psalmist praises God for changing the externals of his situation, so to me, this says that both God changing our insides and God changing our outsides are equally praiseworthy… And possibly even equally miraculous! I tend to think of my inner dispositions changing as a “well duh, I prayed for it and look it happened” and this reminds me that when God answers these kind of prayers awe and praise are far more the appropriate response. God is a good father, and for that I am grateful.

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