Pastor’s Corner: Is religion tied to living longer?

Published 9:24 am Friday, January 13, 2017

Pastor’s Corner by Kenneth Jensen

Kenneth Jensen is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church Association pastor living in Albert Lea.

“Cast all your anxiety on him (Jesus), because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). 

Kenneth Jensen

Kenneth Jensen

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News flash! Life expectancy in the U.S. is on the decline. It is not individuals over 65 who are dying sooner. It is people in mid-life, primarily middle-age men. One nationally known physician has observed a relationship between continual stress and the potential for an earlier death.

While cancer is on the decrease, obesity related diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease are on the rise in addition to sclerosis, drug overdose and suicide. Such health related issues, according to the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, are primarily due to “long-term physiological strain,” — i.e., stress.

Robotics and the off-shoring of jobs — traditionally held by men — are sources of long-term physiological strain. The resulting stress brings on feelings of hopelessness, despair and lack of self-worth within unemployed middle-age men. 

But I wonder, is there also a connection between stress, earlier death and declining worship attendance? The percentage of people attending worship is declining, but mostly among those under 65 — the age group most affected.

A recent study published in a journal by the American Medical Association states that those who attend church services have a better chance of staying alive in the long run.

Over a 20-year span, the study surveyed a group of over 76,000 nurses, mostly Catholic and Protestant. At the end of 20 years, more than 13,000 had died. Those who attended worship more than once a week were 33 percent less likely to be in that group; those who attended weekly, 26 percent; and those who worshiped less frequently, 13 percent. The study’s authors concluded that religion and spirituality may be a resource physicians ought to explore with their patients.

As human beings, we have a soul (or spirit) in addition to a body and mind. Just as a three-legged stool is more stable than a two-legged or one-legged stool, so is a holistic lifestyle which nurtures all three — body, mind and spirit.    

Those of us who once were fans of Mad magazine can remember Alfred E. Neumann’s famous saying, “What, me worry?” How can I not but? 

Attending worship may not change our life situation. Jobs lost to technology, computerized robots and automation will never come back. Yes, but being part of God’s people gathered in worship, we are upheld by prayer and human embrace thereby receiving support, encouragement and hope. 

“What? Me worry?” Yes, but our Lord promises not to abandon us. We are not left to struggle alone.

As Jesus promised: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). 

A wise elderly African-American woman once said, “If the mountain were smooth, you could not climb it.” 

Take good care of yourself. See you in church on Sunday!