Fear, Joy and Gratitude

Thanksgiving - SPAn elderly Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life…

He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me, it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

One wolf is evil—he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego.

The other is good —he is joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”

They thought about it for a minute, and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win, Grandfather?”

The Elder simply replied, “The one you feed.”

I would add two more descriptors to those wolves: one is anxiety and the other thankfulness.

I think this story applied not only to individuals, but also to groups of any size or kind, including faith communities.

And which one will win is determined by what we focus on.

Joy and thankfulness or fear and anxiety?

I am not saying it is always easy… I can get caught up in anxiety and fear just as easily as the next person… but I am learning…

And when I choose to focus on joy and thankfulness, I can’t get sucked into the maelstrom of anxiety and fear.

We live in anxious times… we just have to look at the headlines of the paper or listen to the first few minutes of a newscast to know this.

A refugee crisis that will only get worse before it gets better… an election where leaders seem are more concerned with gaining power than leading our nation…

A report published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health that says Nova Scotia and Halifax have the highest levels of food insecurity in the country. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/food-insecurity-unemployment-1.3262622

Aging congregations and concerns about what the future holds.

And I am not suggesting that we ignore these things, but I suggest that if our anxiety and anger paralyzes us into focusing only on the anxiety, we feed the wrong wolf.

In the midst of all of this… we hear words from the Gospel of Matthew telling us not to worry… for God will provide.

We had a lively discussion at Bible Study about how we hear those words with ears of privilege.

Most of OUR worries, are worries of a privileged people.

We explored how those words might be heard by someone who was hungry… or by a refugee… or by someone who was unemployed…

It’s important to know that those words were directed to the gentile elite, not to the oppressed Jewish people.

And so, they might be directed to most of us.

Not to the person who wonders how she is going to feed her children for the rest of the week.

Not to the refugees being forced out of their countries due to violence or famine.

Not to the person struggling with mental health issues.

But directed to those who have much and who have great autonomy.

I wonder if Jesus is challenging those of us who have so much… so much more than we had even a generation or two ago… I wonder if Jesus is challenging us to practice gratitude?

Brene Brown, a social worker and writer, whose work on fear and gratitude have made her books best sellers says this,

“We can spend our entire lives in scarcity . . . just waiting for the other shoe to drop and wondering when it will all fall apart. Or, we can lean into the uncertainty and be thankful for what we have in that precious moment. When I’m standing at the crossroads of fear and gratitude, I’ve learned that I must choose vulnerability and practice gratitude if want to know joy. I’m not sure that it will ever be easy for me, but I have learned to trust this practice. For that, I give thanks!” http://brenebrown.com/2011/11/23/20111123what-ive-learned-about-gratitude-and-fear-html/

The words from 1st Timothy say something similar, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

I wonder what kind of world it would be if we all prayed for that: that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity?

To me that says knowing my place in the world, not grasping for more than my share, not doing violence to myself and others, but putting trust and gratitude at the centre.

We are bombarded with negative messages.

There is a saying in the media: if it bleeds, it leads.

Good news doesn’t sell; it doesn’t have enough shock value to bring in viewers and therefore advertising revenue.

But we don’t have to accept that worldview as the only one.

As people of faith we are called to live with love and thanksgiving and offer that to a hurting world.

In our anxiety laden world, there is still for which to be thankful:

You named some of them in our chain of gratitude.

Brother David Stenidl-Rast writes in Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer

“Ordinary happiness depends on happenstance.

Joy is that extraordinary happiness that is independent of what happens to us.

Good luck can make us happy, but it cannot give us lasting joy. The root of joy is gratefulness.

We tend to misunderstand the link between joy and gratefulness.

We notice that joyful people are grateful and suppose that they are grateful for their joy.

But the reverse is true: their joy springs from gratefulness.

If one has all the good luck in the world, but takes it for granted, it will not give one joy.

Yet even bad luck will give joy to those who manage to be grateful for it.

We hold the key to lasting happiness in our own hands.

For it is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.“

I am going to close with some paraphrased words written by Ralph Marston:

Let’s stop for a moment and calm our thoughts.
Let go of our anxieties and look around us.
What do we see?
A world of beauty…
A life filled with possibilities
Dreams being born
Being nurtured and fulfilled.
Yes, there are challenges.
Yes, there is sorrow.
Yes, there is violence and hatred
But, more than that, there is love,
There is goodness, there is joy.
The future is uncertain
And that means there is no limit to how beautiful
and joyful we can make it.

On this thanksgiving Sunday in 2015, may we all lift up our voices in thanks, in rejoicing and in faith, knowing that we are blessed beyond measure.

On this thanksgiving weekend, I invite you to feast on gratitude and thanksgiving and starve your anxiety.

Thanks be to God, amen.

© Rev. Catherine MacDonald 2015

1st Timothy 2: 1-7
Matthew 6: 25-34

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