Is it just me, or are we all on edge lately? We have a lot to be overwhelmed about. This is a very tense election season. The stakes are high. Everyone has an opinion they’re trying to boil down to 140 characters and a bumper sticker. People are talking past each other, calling each other names, un-friending, making threats If you vote for him I will unfriend you. If you vote for her, don’t expect to see me at Thanksgiving dinner. It’s loud. As one who loves to help children and families find moments of peace and rest in their busy lives, I feel like my role in the conversation is to simply knock on the door and say “Hey there. Take a deep breath. (Thanks to my son’s Pre-K teacher we call them ‘belly breathes’ in my family.) Use kind words. Give each other a hug. It will all be ok.”
If you, like me, are feeling tense and overwhelmed this election season as words and insults and articles are being flung to and fro, I invite you to take a look at one of these 4 spiritual practices. See where it leads.
The Spiritual Practice of Media and Electronics Fasting: Fasting from media and electronics is the fasting of our age. As I write this, I’m sitting at the “charging station” in the airport. It’s jam packed in here as we all crowd around the precious electrical outlets, making sure we can be connected, always. I understand, truly. It’s good (and feels normal) to be informed and connected. Still, we feel over-saturated at times, and need to simply unplug, take a break, turn it down. I think the New Testament advice about fasting (as it, in that time, applied to fasting from food) is great advice “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others, but by your Father who is in secret. And when your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18. In other words, it’s not necessary to announce your fasting to the entire world, nor is it necessary to judge or look down on others who aren’t fasting. Fasting is personal. Fasting requires discernment. Nobody can tell you how to fast or for how long, or what to do, but a good spiritual director, pastor or friend might have some guidance. Try fasting for a day, or a few days, or a week. Perhaps fast from certain devices or certain social networks. Notice how you feel and what you learn. Journal. Take notes. See what God does through the fasting. Just like fasting from food, it might be uncomfortable or challenging, but it’s in that discomfort that wisdom and spiritual discernment can break forth. See what it’s like to be disconnected for awhile.
The Spiritual Practice of Face-To-Face Conversation With Friends: It bugs me when folks say “Why don’t people get off line and have a real conversation with their real friends?” I think that’s a misunderstanding of social media and relationship. I’ve had conversations and friendships deepened and strengthened (and even begun) via social media and the internet. I don’t think that a conversation, just because it happens online is not a “real” friendship, and I don’t believe that a conversation, just because it’s online, can’t be meaningful. At the same time, there’s something truly gained from all the things that happen when we have conversations face-to-face with people we trust. Eye contact. Body language. Tone. Hugs. Perhaps especially when the conversation is centered around deep issues like politics and elections we need the nuance that comes from that face-to-face interaction. I would argue that Skype or other forms of video chat are the “next best thing.”
The Spiritual Practice of Sabbath: There’s a difference between fasting and Sabbath. Sabbath is the practice of incorporating a regular rhythm in to our days, weeks and years. Sabbath is a chunk of time dedicating to rest and renewal. I’ve written about mini-sabbaths before, and this is a great way to regroup when the world is overwhelming.
The Spiritual Practice of Listening: Look. We know we have a problem. We know we’re listening to people who agree with us and making blanket statements about people who have opposing views. We know we do it, but we don’t know what to do. We need to listen. Less talking, more listening. The best people to listen to are those who are not shouting. I’d also argue it makes good sense to start listening to those with whom you already have a good relationship or friendship. Three tips to becoming an excellent listener:
- 1. Remember that the person to whom you are listening is a child of God, was a little baby once and will be an old, frail person one day. Just like you.
- 2. Be curious and ask clarifying questions as you seek to understand someone else’s point of view. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk.
- 3. Be nice. Don’t call people names or hurt their feelings. Your kindergarten teacher taught you this.
Listening. Sabbath. Conversation. Fasting. We need more of these… agreed?