Overcoming fear with grace and gratitude

On Thanksgiving, I was invited to speak about the power of gratitude to the congregation of Little Rock’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. As we celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas, the central message of that day continues to hold strong: When your mind is set upon grace and gratitude, there is one thing you must not give in to, and that is fear.

Fear saps your power faster than anything else. It creates doubt and distrust and insecurity. In this age of great connectivity, you can find someone every hour of every day willing to scare you about one thing or another. But we are not born to know fear. Much like hatred, it is not natural; it must be learned. And while some level of fear is healthy for survival, it can be far too easy to let it overwhelm and paralyze us.

This was recognized even in biblical times, a far more frightening era of day-to-day life. In his second letter to Timothy, St. Paul wrote that man was endowed not with “the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

However, power or love, alone, cannot always get us where we need to be. There is a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that I cite often. It speaks to the importance of balancing love and power, and reads as follows:

“One of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites, polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Alone, power can be unchecked and dangerous. Alone, love can sustain us, but may not advance us. However, when love is power’s guiding star, we can find ourselves in a more just and fulfilling world.

This is not always how the world works. For years, I have talked of battling the cynicism that permeates our society. We see too many examples of power guided not by love, but by selfish motive or by malice. This breeds discontent, distrust, and again, fear.

Cynicism creates suspicion of the very institutions we establish to govern ourselves and to carry out justice. There are those who would fan those flames and encourage anger and entrenchment over compassion and compromise.

But history has shown time and again that fear, anger and conflict will never move us forward. This is why so many others throughout history implore us to realize that we carry within us the love and power that lead to a more just world.

And for every hateful pronouncement or wave of fear we see in our world, we see people reaching out to each other in times of need, in times of distress, and joining together in times of joy. That’s where we need to focus our energies. The more good we do for one another, the more we infuse power with love. That’s the path to justice that Dr. King preached we could find.

And it is that hope, and that spirit, which keep me thankful this Christmas. I hope you’ll share that power of gratitude with me—not just this holiday season, but throughout the year and throughout our lives.

The Advance-Monticellonian

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