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From the Pulpit: On behalf of a cheerful heart

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Many years ago an ad appeared in the classified section of the London Times. It read: “wanted housekeeper, must be clean, tidy, hardworking and a cheerful Christian — if possible.” I am sure no humor was intended. Place beside this a line from the Book of Proverbs: “A cheerful heart is good medicine; but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” I invite the reader to think with me some thoughts about fostering a cheerful heart, from what the Bible calls “wisdom” and “good medicine.”

We are body, mind and soul — a trinity within a unity. We also live with other people and in a large, troubled and badly divided society. This is the matrix in which individually cheerfulness flourishes or withers.

But first a word to many folk who struggle with clinical depression: Clinical depression is a disease like pneumonia or cancer. The clinically depressed person often finds much cheerfulness out of reach. The last thing she needs is scolding or guilt producing preachments like “you just need more faith.” These thoughts are directed to those for whom a little more good cheer is reachable.

Wisdom says “allow yourself some down time.” Accept the fact that some downtime just goes with being a human being; and for those professing Christian faith, a reality of life as it is for everyone. If you doubt this, read the book of Psalms.

Wisdom says “take yourself less seriously.” “Angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly.” (G. K. Chesterton) Wisdom says stop comparing yourself to someone else, or thinking that you must be competent at everything, or calling unpleasant things “catastrophes.”

Wisdom says that we are probably better off than we think we are. My mother’s stock answer to my childhood ailments was “you’ll be better in the morning.” Often we need to call the bluff on some of our fears, trusting we will be better in the morning or a week or two.

Wisdom says to engage your sense of humor. Faith and good humor both teach us to sit a little more lightly on things and take ourselves less seriously.

Wisdom says in the depths of your heart learn to give each day over to God, as in the familiar line in the Psalm “This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” (P. 118)

A blessed Advent and Hanukkah and good cheer to all in this season of renewal and hope.

James Bortell is a retired United Methodist minister living in Normal. He may be reached at

James Bortell is a retired United Methodist minister living in Normal. He may be reached at


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