During a recent lecture in my Early Church History class, our professor was discussing Epicurus and his understanding of reality. According to Epicurus, life happens when a bunch of atoms bump into each other and stick together, and eventually become a complex enough clump to somehow produce life. Death is inevitable, and when it happens, the atoms return to their original source: life is therefore a very temporary experience.
Those who followed Epicirus believed in maximizing their pleasure and happiness at all times, and finding every way to make their present life as long and as happy as it could be.
Maximizing happiness and extending life: it sounds a lot like what life looks like here in L.A. From zany health trends to expensive dieticians, spas, and of course surgical procedures, Angelinos are all about making life look as good and last as long as possible.
But something doesn’t match up. My professor also discussed how, according to Epicurus, anxiety is the enemy of the pleasurable life! He would argue against going into politics, for example, because it is too anxiety-producing.
So here’s what I find intriguing in all of this: everywhere I turn, I see people scrambling after happiness. I see people terrified of death and going to extremes to prevent it! I see pleasure placed on private alters everywhere and worshiped faithfully. Yet if you were to ask me what other word could best describe the families and individuals I know, I think it would have to be anxiety. I have too many peers on too many medications; I know too many teenagers who cut, starve, or wish to die; I see too many desperately controlling people whose lives are held hostage to every kind of fear. And these are just my Christian friends…
I heard a sermon recently that reminded us that we are all yoked to something: our egos, our addictions, our stuff. I wonder if it isn’t that, for many of us, we have we chosen to yoke ourselves to happiness or pleasure or longevity. And in doing so, we have found that we have chosen our Self as our ultimate yokefellow; and that is where the anxiety comes from. For when we grow weary, our yokefellow does too. When we desperately need the strength of another to help shoulder our load, we are left with the limits of our own endurance. When we simply want to turn and see that we have a companion in our labor, we instead find our own haggard face staring back.
What does the promise of an easy yoke and a light burden look like today-and are we brave enough to proclaim it?