Columns

Obama at Prayer Breakfast: 'Jesus Is a Good Cure for Fear'

President Obama strikes the Heisman Trophy pose with Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry at the conclusion of the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington on Feb. 3, 2016. (Photo by Pool/Sipa USA)

President Obama told the National Prayer Breakfast this morning that the “gap between want and plenty… gives us vertigo,” making us afraid “not only of the possibility that progress will stall, but that maybe we have more to lose.”

“And fear does funny things. Fear can lead us to lash out against those who are different, or lead us to try to get some sinister ‘other’ under control. Alternatively, fear can lead us to succumb to despair, or paralysis, or cynicism. Fear can feed our most selfish impulses, and erode the bonds of community,” Obama said.

“It is a primal emotion — fear — one that we all experience. And it can be contagious, spreading through societies, and through nations. And if we let it consume us, the consequences of that fear can be worse than any outward threat.”

The president added that “Jesus is a good cure for fear.”

“Certainly, during the course of this enormous privilege to have served as the President of the United States, that’s what faith has done for me. It helps me deal with the common, everyday fears that we all share,” he continued. “…You come to understand what President Lincoln meant when he said that he’d been driven to his knees by the overwhelming conviction that he had no place else to go.”

“…And should that faith waver, should I lose my way, I have drawn strength not only from a remarkable wife, not only from incredible colleagues and friends, but I have drawn strength from witnessing all across this country and all around this world, good people, of all faiths, who do the Lord’s work each and every day, who wield that power and love, and sound mind to feed the hungry and heal the sick, to teach our children and welcome the stranger.”

Obama referenced his trip to the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Wednesday, saying there he met a Muslim from Chicago named Rami Nashashibi, who runs a nonprofit aiding impoverished neighborhoods.

“And he told me how the day after the tragedy in San Bernardino happened, he took his three young children to a playground in the Marquette Park neighborhood, and while they were out, the time came for one of the five daily prayers that are essential to the Muslim tradition. And on any other day, he told me, he would have immediately put his rug out on the grass right there and prayed. But that day, he paused. He feared any unwelcome attention he might attract to himself and his children. And his seven year-old daughter asked him, ‘What are you doing, Dad? Isn’t it time to pray?’ And he thought of all the times he had told her the story of the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rabbi Robert Marx, and 700 other people marched to that very same park, enduring hatred and bigotry, dodging rocks and bottles, and hateful words, in order to challenge Chicago housing segregation, and to ask America to live up to our highest ideals,” Obama continued.

“And so, at that moment, drawing from the courage of men of different religions, of a different time, Rami refused to teach his children to be afraid. Instead, he taught them to be a part of that legacy of faith and good conscience. ‘I want them to understand that sometimes faith will be tested,’ he told me, ‘and that we will be asked to show immense courage, like others have before us, to make our city, our country, and our world a better reflection of all our ideals.’ And he put down his rug and he prayed.”

The president said stories like that “give me courage and they give me hope — and they instruct me in my own Christian faith.”