Moving from Fear Into Gratitude

Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church, *

Luke 13:31-35

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our God.

Jesus had quite a few fears to confront, not the least of which were multiple threats on his life. In today’s lectionary reading, he was on his way to Jerusalem and stopped in a little town for a few days to offer healing. While there, some religious leaders came up to him and yelled: “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you!” This fear-provoking threat was real and Jesus took it seriously. What was his reaction to this fear? He didn’t run away from it, nor did he give in to it. He replied that he was going to stick to his plan of healing for the next three days in that town and was then going to continue on his way to Jerusalem—on his way to where his death would be more likely. He walked towards his fear but didn’t allow it to overshadow his life and ministry.

Fear—whether it be realistic or imagined—can rob us of our joy in life. Mark Twain is known to have said, “I have had a great number of troubles in my life, some of which actually happened.” Brené Brown talks about standing in front of her child’s crib, overwhelmed with joy at the beauty of her sleeping child, when suddenly a fear of something bad happening to the child will fill her with dread and rob her of that delicious moment of joy.[1] Even in the best of times, fear seems to be lurking just around the corner.

A fear of scarcity—of not being or having enough—may be our most common source of fear. My child isn’t safe enough. I haven’t protected my family enough. I didn’t get enough sleep. I don’t have enough time. I’m not thin enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not successful enough. I’m not healthy enough. I’m not good enough. And of course, we never have enough money.

Brené Brown suggests that the converse of a fear of scarcity is a sense of sufficiency. It’s not dependent on having more—it’s dependent on being grateful for what we already have. To move from a fear of scarcity to a sense of sufficiency requires not a change of resources but a change of attitude.

It requires a spiritual practice of gratitude. When those darn fears of scarcity come crashing down, that is the moment to step back, acknowledge the fears, for they are real whether imagined or not, and then pray, asking God to help us be grateful for what we do have, for who we already are. I know that when I move past my fears of scarcity, I am not only happier but I also make life much more pleasant for all of those around me.

This is a good practice for churches as well. We could focus on a fear of scarcity—we don’t have enough people, enough children, enough donations, enough programs. When our goals are based on a fear of scarcity, we want more and will inevitably be disappointed because we’ll never have enough. Or, we can learn from a strengths-based philosophy called appreciative inquiry and focus on what we do have—on who is here right now, on the gifts, talents and resources that we currently have and build on them.

This, I believe, is what the biblical understanding of church is all about. We discern God’s guidance for our future by identifying our current strengths and spiritual gifts in the congregation. In other words, we have exactly who we need to follow God’s call right now. As we move into the AGM, may we do so with a sense of gratitude for all that we do have, for all that we are.

[1] Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (Centre City, Minnesota: Hazelden, 2010): 77-85.