July - Don't Worry, Be Happy
It was Saint Albans day on Wednesday 22nd June. Alban is remembered as the first British Christian martyr, who had converted to Christianity while serving in the Roman Army.
According to the historian Bede, he came to faith through a fugitive priest and his crime was to hide said priest by changing clothes with him. Alban was promptly executed in place of the priest! Maybe he thought that God would keep him from harm.
The New Testament reading for Morning Prayer (June 22nd) was Luke 12. 22-31 and starts: ‘He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing”.’
As the reading continues, we could easily conclude that God knows our every need and will look after all our requirements. All we need do is try harder.
Indeed Jesus more or less says do not worry at all about your own life, don’t be anxious about anything. Or in the words of Bob Marley – “Don’t worry, be happy”!
Unfortunately, this passage is one of those that can pile on the pressure if we’re not careful. The problem is that we can end up feeling that something is wrong with us or that we are sinful and failing God if we are worried or become anxious.
The world strives for worldly things, including safety and security, and it seems that Jesus is not interested in that, but in the productivity of our lives – to ‘strive for his Kingdom’. Consequently many of us, myself included, end up believing the protestant work ethic of working tirelessly or of putting in the extra hours or miles and potentially neglecting ourselves physically, emotionally or spiritually. Perhaps we end up striving too hard, forgetting that faith is not a sprint to the finish line but a life-long journey.
Covid has changed the way of the world in many respects, including our own parish life. There are fewer volunteers for a start, so doing as much as we did is far more difficult. We are also living with more anxiety and not just from the physical experience (if you have had Covid), but also tiredness and fuzziness of mind, stress or even depression.
Among Christians, it’s easy to dismiss these things as personal flaws in our moral or spiritual character, but nothing could be further from the truth. I read this recently on the Well-Being Journey website (a new Christian well-being course which Lesley has been leading -
For Christians, practising emotional self-care can be extremely difficult. Things which benefit our mental health can often feel selfish or self-indulgent, so we avoid them out of guilt and misplaced shame. Yet our mental health affects how we think, feel and respond on a daily basis. It can even take a toll on our spiritual life if we’re not careful.
It’s important to remember that God does not want his children to suffer unduly, and we cannot be faithful disciples if we’re avoiding our own problems.
Centuries ago, one of the first disciplines of the Benedictine monastic rule of life was the need to look after ourselves, because if we don’t then how are we going to be able to serve God and others? Benedict said to his community leaders in effect, that they needed to take personal responsibility through self-awareness of our different emotional and physical needs.
I am very grateful for all that you do in the life, witness and ministry of our churches. Yes, sometimes it feels like we are doing too much and sometimes it feels like we should be doing more. It’s a tension we have to perhaps live with at times.
Yet I appeal to you, please look after yourself, especially your emotional well-being and if you need to say “No” then say it!
Coming back to Luke 12 though, we are of great value to God, much more than we might ever imagine. Jesus in my mind is simply saying to his followers that they need to get their priorities right, because striving for the wrong things can take us away from the salvation that God will bring about in him through the cross. Jesus is not saying that we should neglect ourselves for the sake of the Gospel, trying to prove ourselves or justify ourselves.
I think what Luke is saying to his readers in the Gospel - the Good News of Jesus - is that we don’t need to strive at all. Jesus has it covered. Worrying about or being anxious about or striving for salvation is futile.
To strive for the Kingdom is about accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and everything else will fit into place, because the worldly things no longer become our priority. (And that is not at all the same as neglecting ourselves)!
With every blessing
Please download the Parish Link for July
Please download the Contemplation for July