Address delivered at the secondary campus assembly to induct the new school captains. The reading was Philippians 4:4-7.
I was walking around town yesterday and saw a lot of apparently unhappy people. They looked troubled. It made me wonder, where does happiness come from? Enjoyment, that is, joy? The cultural assumption is that we are happy, we can enjoy ourselves, when things are right on the outside of us: when we are with our friends, when we get to do what we really like, when there is no pressure, no responsibility; then we can enjoy ourselves. Presumably this means that when things are going badly, or we have responsibilities, or we are doing things we don’t particularly want to do, we can’t enjoy ourselves. Is that right?
I must really be unhappy then. I carry a good deal of responsibility in my life, as a priest in the parish, my duties in the wider church and community, in my home, spouse and children etc. And poor [... school captains...] They are taking on more responsibilities just as they approach their most difficult year academically. They will have pressures and responsibilities, many of which we will place on them, and they will have to do some things at least that they might not otherwise choose to do. On this reading they won’t be enjoying themselves much at all for the next 12 months. And aren’t [... outgoing school captains...] lucky to be stepping down. Now they can be happier!
I don’t think so. Let’s think about this for a moment. If our happiness and ability to enjoy ourselves is determined by the outside environment, much of which is out of our control, we are less than free. I prefer freedom.
Happiness, joy, enjoyment has its source within us, not outside us. Even though I carry responsibility and frequently feel under pressure and have to do some things as a priest that are difficult, I enjoy my life. When the pressure rises, or things aren’t working out how I would like them to, I decide to enjoy myself anyway. This does not mean that I ignore the problems or don’t feel the pressure. I’m not suggesting that we should deny any part of our lives. What I do is like flicking a switch inside me. I decide that I will enjoy myself no matter what the external circumstances.
Where or what is this switch to be flicked on the inside? We get the clue in our reading today from St Paul. “Rejoice in the Lord always “ he says; in other words, find your joy in God. The God who dwells with you. The God who said when you were made, ‘S/he is good.’ The God who thinks you are of inestimable value, the God who fiercely loves you and will never abandon you. Much of our worry revolves around anxieties concerning how others perceive us or will perceive us: am I good enough, will I perform well enough, will people like me or not, what is going to happen etc. We don’t want to let people down so we worry. All this gives up our freedom to the vagaries of others’ perception of us.
I strive to find my sense of self, my personhood, my worthiness in my relationship with God. I do not gauge my sense of self on the results of my performance. I enjoy myself, I carry my responsibilities lightly, and I let God do with what is achieved what God can. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an excuse for slackness. In fact, to find your true freedom within you in your relationship with the God who dwells within, this brings with it a joy that enables us to live our lives more fully, to engage with a new discipline and diligence in the tasks of life.
So, [... school captains ...], you have the great honour and task of being our school captains/vice captains for the next twelve months. You will carry new responsibilities, feel some new pressures, do some things that you might not choose to do otherwise. You will also do many things that are pleasant and bring great satisfaction. But in all of this enjoy yourselves. Feel the freedom that comes from flicking the switch that is a sense of personhood derived from the God who dwells within. Be the great leaders that you are called to be, and enjoy yourselves while you do it.