"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. - John 14:27
"Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning." – Dallas Willard
I tell most of my clients the same story.
I think I was playing intramural softball while a student at Auburn. It could've been when I was playing in a church league while in Seminary. I can't remember. Regardless, I was playing the position where I felt the most comfortable – shortstop. A hard hit ground-ball was hit my way and I was able to backhand it, but I ended up on my back in the dirt. Without even thinking, I threw in the direction of first base and somehow got the hitter out. I never even got the chance to look at the first baseman before throwing the ball. Someone asked me, "How did you do that?!" I just smiled and said, "No idea." I really didn't know at the time. But now I know.
I had spent so much time over the years – since I was a young kid – at shortstop, practicing a throw from that part of the field to the first baseman, that it was now natural. So even in a difficult situation like the one during that game, I could naturally make that play. That doesn't mean I always would. But the practice made it possible. Practice may not make perfect, but does it make what we need to do in a given situation more natural.
The election season is almost always crazy. But this year is something else entirely. It seems like the nation is tearing itself in two. Anger and anxiety are the order of the day. And it's everywhere. It seems like the country has lost its collective mind.
So how do Christians stay "sane" during this time? How do we not get mixed up in the craziness of it all? How do we stay faithful despite the chaos and circumstances? How do we experience peace apart from what is happening around us?
I actually believe we as a culture have practices and habits that lend themselves toward anxiety and anger. We "practice" worry and we "practice" anger throughout our days and so they become habits we instinctively live out. They become so much a part of our lives we don't even notice them. They are natural.
But that does not have to be the case. We can form new habits through different practices so that peace becomes far more natural than it presently is. But it will effort and it will not be easy. You will have to want the peace that Jesus offers more than anything.
Below are 8 practices you can do that will help you have more peace during this election season (and beyond). This is not an exhaustive list. And you do not have have to do all of these to move towards peace. But these will help you practice peace. And if you stick with them enough, instead of anxiety and anger during the election season, you will find peace more natural. These practices may not make you perfect but you just might find yourself living out the peace that "surpasses all understanding" in such a way that someone asks, "How did you do that?"
1. Minimize your news intake. The more news you watch, the more you are likely to think about the election. The problem is the news is not there to help you. Unlike Jesus, Who came to announce the good news of his kingdom, the news trades in bad news. All news sources are calculated to make you angry and anxious so you will click on or turn on whatever will continue the cycle of you being angry and anxious. Paul tells us, "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." That's good advice in the days leading up to an election that has been and most likely will continue to be uncharacteristically ugly.
2. Limit your social media intake. You may be very good at not arguing on Facebook and Twitter. But let's face it, sometimes someone says something so ridiculous, even if you show Olympic-worthy self control and say nothing to them, your blood still boils. Sometimes it's a friend. Sometimes it's a family member. And sometimes it is someone you do not even know - they only follow you because years ago they thought you were a famous Christian singer. Maybe that's just me. Regardless, spend more time away form social media. Or if you struggle to stay away, don't feel guilty about snoozing those people for 30 days.
3. Don't talk politics if you don't have to. This can be hard if only because every time people get together they feel like they have to talk about the election and politics. Politics for many is religion. And for others it's sport. But you do not have to play or attend every argument or discussion about the election. Change the subject. Go to the bathroom. Or simply tell them you need a break from politics.
4. Surround yourself with like-minded believers. Find a group of people who are seeking the same peace you are. Then make a pact that you will not discuss the election for a period of time. Instead, talk about what God is doing in your life or in the lives of others. Or heck, talk about football and music and food. When you read the New Testament, it's clear those followers of Jesus had to be careful. The Empire was not really their friend. In fact, the authorities were actively working against the Church. And yet, the letters we have are almost completely silent on the goings-on of politicians. Maybe we should be too.
5. Maximize your time in the Scriptures. The Scriptures have a way of reminding us God "removes kings and sets up kings." The Bible is a window into a world very different than the one politicians and journalists sell us. It is a world where what is unseen is more important and lasting than the seen world. It is a world where Jesus reigns, grace is real power, and forgiveness is possible. Spend more time in the Scriptures than in the news and social media, so your mind is full of the unseen realities of The King and his Kingdom.
6. Remind yourself who is King. This is going to sound crazy but it's time for you to put your phone to good use – I want you to ask Siri (and/or Alexa) to set an hourly reminder on your phone that is simply, "We have a King and a Kingdom." Now you have a reminder throughout the day that Jesus is King and he has made us citizens of a kingdom that is not of this world. The news anchors totally ignore this kingdom and it's politics of love, joy, and contentment whatever the circumstances. Hang up signs in your home. Whatever you do, surround yourself with reminders that you live in a real kingdom, and unlike the kingdoms of this world, this his kingdom will never end.
7. Pray for those on "the other side." If you have a side in this election, that means there are people on "the other side." And those people may hate you and all you stand for. They may want to "cancel" you and they may think canceling you is right and good. They may call you names and want only harm to come to you. Pray for them anyway. Jesus was pretty clear on this when he said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." This command is not easy, but Jesus, Who knows more about this world and how to live in it better than anyone, would only tell us to do this if it was the best way to live in this world he created. So we should not be surprised if when we pray for those on "the other side, "we then find ourselves less anxious and angry and more joyous. This is the surest path to loving our "enemies."
8. Fast and pray. I honestly don't know of anything more effective in getting my whole self focused on Jesus in the midst of difficulty than fasting. And election seasons are always fraught with difficulty. But when I fast from food (which I love with the force of a thousand armies) I am reminded of how I need to "taste and see that the LORD is good." Every time I feel those hunger pains and the steering wheel looks like a pizza, I have to ask myself if I am confident Jesus is better than food. Through fasting and prayer I have learned in a way I would have otherwise not known, there is a sustenance in following Christ the world knows nothing about. But you don't have to fast from food. You can fast from social media, the news, TV – really anything, that if you do without it, the difficulty will direct you toward remembering the goodness of Jesus, our King.
May the peace of God guard our hearts and minds during this crazy election season.