Thinking Anew – Faith and the daily grind

‘Come to me you who labour and are heavy-burdened.” It is easy to forget that a lot of people still fit that description. Our children might not work in mines, and we no longer turn our fields by hand, but a lot of us still do long hours of demanding work. The challenge of providing the basics of food and shelter weighs heavily on many people.

In a more contemporary setting, Jesus might well have invited those who were exhausted and stressed.

Struggle is as much a part of everyday life today as it was at any time in the past. It is also as silent and ignored as it has always been. This is not surprising. Those who are labour and are heaven-burdened are unlikely to tell you they are exhausted and stressed. What use is faith when you truly exhausted and stressed?

Karl Marx famously declared that religion was the opium of the people. We have always understood that the people to whom he referred were the exhausted and stressed. We have also understood that his use of opium hinted at delusion. There is no doubt that opium has this effect but it is a comforter. Faith can comfort too.


In the complicated world of human interaction, it is easy to get lost and confused. Having something to believe in is essential and finding comfort in faith can be a good start. If that faith makes you dutiful in your dealings, quick to forgive, kind in your exchanges and conscious of your own dignity, you have accepted the invitation of this Sunday’s Gospel. It does not promise that your work will be less strenuous or that your problems will suddenly disappear. That is the delusionary role of opium. Shouldering the yoke hints that faith never expected an easy life.

Faith does not promise an easy life either. It can help to make the insufferable bearable but cannot get rid of greed, exploitation, nastiness or disregard. As Christians we believe that each and every one of us has an equal share of dignity, and our faith tells us that we should see ourselves as more than our work and troubles. It allows us to re-humanise ourselves and remember that we are more than the things that make us feel helpless, isolated and unappreciated.

If you can truly believe in your own redemption, it is easier to embrace every new day with hope. Things can change, but won’t if we co-operate with our own downgrading. If you believe that you are created in the image and likeness of God, you will protect that image from being trampled upon. We have no problem accepting that an image can be sacred, but it takes some effort to accept that you are sacred too.

Faith is two-edged. As much as it affirms your dignity, it also affirms the dignity of everybody else around you. Our own attitudes, words, actions and oversights may very well be the cause of exhaustion and stress to those around us. The Gospel reminds oppressor and oppressed alike of the importance of human dignity. A dignity that should never be allowed to forget itself. And so we pray.

A good part of prayer is sitting calmly in great presence and somehow knowing you belong there. There are many things that depersonalise us in life, many things that upset us, many things that frighten us. Faith cannot make these things disappear but it can help us to not let any of them overwhelm us.