1 Corinthians 7:32-40
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord. If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his fiancee, if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry.
But if someone stands firm in his resolve, being under no necessity but having his own desire under control, and has determined in his own mind to keep her as his fiancee, he will do well. So then, he who marries his fiancee does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better. A wife is bound as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is more blessed if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.
This portion of the letter begins with the hope, “I want you to be free from anxieties.”
To the modern reader, these words may seem almost laughable. Anxiety all too often seems to be the normal state of affairs in our culture. Anxiety about living wages, health care, finding jobs, getting a good education, terrorism, the next presidential election, keeping our kids off of drugs, gun control… and on and on the list could go. These are the very real issues that keep us anxious in our culture in 2016, and that make us wonder whether we can ever be free from anxiety.
Most of the ensuing words in Paul’s letter are not in the least helpful to me in understanding how to cope with anxiety. He goes on and on about being married or unmarried and the restraint that puts upon our commitments, and how, in his opinion, it is better to remain unmarried. Well, that was his choice; however, his argument falls flat with me today as a way to cope with anxiety, or as a way to be in relationship with God.
What he does say that inspires me is his final sentence in this passage: “I think that I too have the Spirit of God.” Amen to that for us all! We do have the Spirit of God within us. It was a gift at our birth when we drew our first breath of life. One of the things over which we have no control is our breathing. Yes, we can regulate our breathing; however the act of breathing is God’s gift of life to us at birth. It is the sign of God’s presence within us, and we are hence never without the living presence, of God intimately involved in our lives.
We have also been given the gift of God’s Spirit in our baptism, when we are “…sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own forever.” So, we don’t have to “think” we have the Spirit of God, we “know” that we do. Whenever we doubt it, all we have to do is to breathe with intention, concentrating on the breath, and we will feel the presence of God within.
Therefore, when anxieties overwhelm us, take a deep breath and know the Spirit of God is within. Be confident in the gift of God’s Spirit, and all of our anxieties will fall into perspective, and be seen in that context as less than essential. In that vein, not only can we cope with them, we can even triumph over them!
Thank you, God, for the gift of life; for your living, breathing presence within us. Thank you for the challenges presented to us each day to create a more just and equitable society, and to cope with the struggles created by the anxieties of this world. Guide us in seeking wisdom to make good choices and decisions. Guide us as we seek to be inclusive of the needs of others as we choose the necessities for our own living. With you centered in all we say and do, may we praise and glorify your name. Amen.