I was skimming through Martin Luther’s Letters of Spiritual Counsel the other day and came upon a piece of advice written by the reformer to Prince Joachim of Anhalt. As it is November, I know a lot of people suffer from black dog days – if this is your lot in life it may encourage you to read Luther’s words to his young friend:
I should like to encourage Your Grace, who are a young man, always to be joyful, to engage in riding and hunting, and to seek the company of others who may be able to rejoice with Your Grace in a godly and honorable way. For solitude and melancholy are poisonous and fatal to all people, and especially to a young man. Accordingly God has commanded us to be joyful in his presence; he does not desire a gloomy sacrifice. This is frequently asserted by Moses, and in Eccl. ch. 12, we read, “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee.” No one realizes how much harm it does a young person to avoid pleasure and cultivate solitude and sadness… Be merry, then, both inwardly in Christ himself and outwardly in his gifts and the good things of life. He will have it so. It is for this that he is with us. It is for this that he provides his gifts – that we may use them and be glad, and that we may praise, love and thank him forever and ever.
You can read the whole letter here.
I particularly like Luther’s advice to go hunting as an aid to overcoming depression – how often does a pastor suggest that kind of remedy nowadays I wonder?!
This Sunday we will enter the season of Advent, and the word “merry” gets its annual outing, appended to “Christmas” on a million greetings cards. Apart from at Christmas we don’t tend to speak of merriness any more, the word feels quaint. But perhaps we should revive it, in line with Luther’s advice. Wouldn’t it great for our churches to be known as places of merriment! “To be merry both inwardly in Christ himself and outwardly in his gifts and the good things of life” would be a much better mission statement than the more earnest ones churches tend to employ.