This post was originally written for the November 9, 2018 edition of the Spencer Reporter.
Today you might be experiencing a syndrome many of us had two years ago, after the 2016 presidential election: *Post-Election Stress Disorder.
The first thing I did when I got up the morning after mid-term elections was to look up the results for Iowa online. After that I checked a few races around the country. What was striking was how close so many of the races were. As encouraging as the turnout was, it revealed more clearly than ever how much we are divided about the way we think our political life should be conducted.
For many, the election was a referendum on protecting an “American way of life.” Yet we are not united in what we think that is. Does it mean bigger government or more local autonomy? Does it mean protecting our borders with a wall and firepower or a more liberal immigration policy? Does it mean centralized health care or more individual choice?
For followers of Jesus Christ, there is a way of life we profess that does not necessarily align with what is touted as the American way. In fact there is a sharp contrast between the two. The compulsion in our culture to attain more and more possessions is not supported by Jesus. He urges us to be free of materialism and instead share with the poor to the point of self-sacrifice. The temptation to wield power over other people is also counter to Jesus’ teaching of servanthood and submission. These are only two examples that distinguish between the American way and Jesus’ way, which the gospels call the kingdom of God.
Whether you are disappointed with the results of this week’s election or not, you may still be disheartened by the divisiveness that pervades the United States right now. This is felt most keenly in personal relationships. With the holidays approaching, you might be dreading the tension around the Thanksgiving table, or planning to avoid it altogether.
How can we find a new level of charity in our relationships with one another? It won’t happen through legislation or political rallies. We cannot elect a leader with enough wisdom and influence to cultivate the peace among us we all crave. It feels out of our control.
Yet Jesus taught by words and example that we always have control over the way we move through the world. In every situation we have a choice about what we say and do, and how we might restrain ourselves in an effort to understand and care for one another. One of his teachings is, to me, critical for our times.
He said “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Mk 10.14b-15) Then he let them onto his lap and blessed each one.
How striking that Jesus talks about receiving the kingdom of God in this instance. He asks us to accept God’s way as our way instead of expecting him to endorse the way we order our lives. He recommends openness instead of pushiness.
What is it like to be a child? Think of it. Children’s needs are so obvious, and relentless. They need love. They crave attention. They need protection, and food, and guidance. They are often confused and naïve. Afraid sometimes. And it’s tough being a kid, because everybody is always telling you no. You can’t do this or that, you can’t go there. Shame is practically a daily occurrence. Children are not allowed many choices. If you hang around children very much, you know that one of the things they want most is for someone to listen to them, to acknowledge them.
But aren’t we all a little like that? We want to be loved and valued, taken seriously. We just don’t wear it on our sleeves as kids do. We get confused too. We feel left out sometimes, and we worry about having what we need. Shame and fear drive our behavior more than we want to admit. Scratch the surface, and there is a child in all of us. Maybe Jesus is simply asking us to own up to that. To admit that we don’t have it all together, that life is confusing and disappointing and sometimes downright unbearable. Confess that we have acted shamefully at times because we felt lost or threatened.
In Matthew 18:4 Jesus tells us to put ourselves in the position of a child in order to participate in the kingdom of God—the way we are created to live together: “to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
How might we approach each other intentionally as children then? Some possibilities: See the child in one another: the desire to be loved, the disappointments of life, the fears. Play together sometimes instead of arguing. Find a common cause to support so we can all practice love together, and remember what we like about each other. Practice saying “please” and “thank you” as our mothers taught us. And listen. Just listen, even if we disagree. We don’t have to approve or agree in order to listen well. Be curious—like a child—instead of arguing. Let someone else have the last word, just once. Or even twice.
We do not have to be stressed. Truly we don’t. Like children, we can trust that Someone loves us and will always be with us. We can make mistakes and listen to each other. We can resolve to love fiercely instead of defaulting to hatred. We can do the hard work of compromise that reflects the basic values we share. We can work together to care for those who are suffering.
We always have control over this one thing: We can love.