Posted by: Philip Rushton | October 14, 2013

The Shutdown And The Soul: Dealing faithfully with our political anxiety

Government_Shutdown_Hub_Generic_640x480_20110408203856_320_240With the government shutdown into it’s second week, and the debt ceiling debate looming on the horizon, it is hard not to be discouraged about the state of our political process these days. I have personally experienced a heightened sense of anxiety and frustration lately. Judging from the regular political rants I am reading on facebook, and the higher volume of political conversations I have had with friends in recent days, I am sure I am not alone.

This post is not an attempt to take sides and continue the debate about who is right and who is wrong. What I feel the need to wrestle with is how we can deal with our political anxiety. Left unchecked, our anxiety can fuel all sorts of negative byproducts such as anger, dissension among friends, hopelessness, idolatry, and slander.

The anxiety we feel about the whole situation is understandable. There is a lot at stake in the current debate. The decisions made by our government impact all of us in profound ways. I suspect that at the root of a lot of our anxiety is the issue of money. We are worried about the impact this political showdown is going to have on stocks, investments, jobs, and healthcare costs.

So how do we deal with our political anxiety? How can we avoid letting the current state of our political process lead us towards anger, despair and frustration? Below I’ve listed 3 practices that I think might help us remain faithful in the midst of these uncertain times.

1. Prayer

Paul tells us in Philippians to, “not be anxious about anything but in prayer and petition offer your requests to God.” To this point I have tried to confront my anxiety by having political debates and clinging to the headlines in hopes of hearing good news. I haven’t, however, spent a whole lot of time in prayer. What if I replaced some of the time I’ve spent reading news headlines and instead rested in the presence of God and expressed my anxiety to Him?

The need for prayer in the face of political anxiety occurred to me yesterday while reading Psalm 46 during a home communion service I conducted for one of our homebound members. Here David prays:

The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered;
He raised His voice, the earth melted.
The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Come, behold the works of the Lord, Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire.
“Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold.

If anybody could advise us on how to deal with political anxiety it would be David. His life was marked with constant political instability. He dealt with civil wars, military coups, and betrayal from his own allies. Yet, David directed this anxiety to God in prayer. Through the practice of prayer David regained perspective on everything. He realized that God was in control. Though kingdoms tottered and nations were in an uproar, David was able to rest in the knowledge that God was with him.

To get to this place of peace David needed to recover his priorities. He was able to let go of his political anxiety precisely because he trusted God above all things. His well being was not directly tied to the outcome of worldly events because he knew there was a deeper hope he had in God. As Christians we believe that there is hope even in suffering. Through prayer we can learn to confront our idolatrous attachment to worldly things by trusting in God. We have an opportunity during this time of political instability to confront the false god’s we are clinging to.

2. Protect our relationships

Most people I have talked with have very strong opinions about the current political crisis. In the midst of this, we need to be careful that we do not take our cues from the toxic type of debate going on in the media. While it is OK to stand up for what we believe is true, we ought to heed Paul’s advice to “speak the truth in love.” Two quotes come to mind when I think about the need for us to maintain a spirit of love among friends.

John Wesley wrote this advice on October 6, 1774.

“I met those of our society who had votes in our ensuing election, and advised them, 1. To vote without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy, 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”

Philip Yancey makes a similar point in his book, “Whats so Amazing About Grace”

“Politics draws lines between people; in contrast, Jesus’ love cuts across those lines and dispenses grace. That does not mean, of course, that Christians should not involve themselves in politics. It simply means that as we do so we must not let the rules of power displace the command to love.”

The media has set an unhealthy tone for our political conversations. As Christians we need to make sure that we do not let a bitter root of dissension grow up within our communities.

3. Gain Perspective Through Gratitude

While our anxiety and frustration is valid, I believe there is still reason to be very grateful for our current situation. There is a profound juxtaposition going on right now between the political crisis in America and the political crisis in Syria. While we are frustrated about the fact that our politicians cannot come to a consensus about our budget issues, we ought to be grateful that we are not in a country that resolves these differences through extreme violence. Our politicians may frustrate us with their legislative maneuvering and political spin, but they are not using chemical weapons on their citizens. Democracy can be messy and frustrating but it is a blessing compared to totalitarian regimes. As Churchill once said, “democracy is the worst form of government except for every other form of government.”

Furthermore, as Christians we believe that we have a hope that transcends the hardship of living in the world. As Jesus said, “in this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” As Paul says in Romans, “nothing can separate us from the love of God.” Perhaps this current political impasse is an opportunity for us to evaluate what we really trust in.

Maybe it is because it is Canadian thanksgiving today, but I believe we still have much to be grateful for despite the frustrations we are up against. Perhaps some perspective is in order!

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Responses

  1. A friend of mine sent me a great response via e-mail that helps to elaborate on the reason why prayer might be helpful in times of political instability. The real issue here is attachment. We are fearful precisely because we are attached to money and power. Prayer, I believe, is a helpful practice that allows us to detach from these false gods or idols. David can have peace no matter the outcome because he ultimately trusts in God not in human power or wealth. Prayer, then, can be an act of realigning our priorities, and removing our idols. We can “cease striving,” or “cease worrying” when we trust that God is God. There is a deeper hope that transcends even economic disaster or political oppression. For even in suffering there is hope, even as we lose life we gain life.

  2. Well said, as much of the opinions voiced by well intentioned people accomplish little in the way of positive intent. Henry    

  3. As a person who loves to discuss politics I am always amazed when believing folks get overly excited about what “empire “leaders are up to. We are of a different kingdom, yes, I have to live in this culture but I am instructed to be ” not of this world” Getting excited about Washington stupidity is about the same as lamenting about how bad Washington State plays football or why England is doing poorly at soccer. But your article is still very well written. Peace …………………Gil R

    • I see some of your Quaker leanings coming through here! There are a lot of different perspectives on the relationship between Christianity and culture. The Quaker / Mennonite view emphasizes the idea that we engage culture by retreating from the mainstream and setting up a christian counter-culture. The reformed traditions suggests that Christians should be very engaged in the mainstream so as to seek cultural transformation with the gospel.

      I find some important emphases in both extremes. On the one hand I think we need a certain distance from the mainstream so that we can have a prophetic voice in our culture. If we are too enmeshed with the world it can be problematic. On the other hand, I find a lot of emphasis in scripture on engaging our world. I’m preaching on Colossians 1:15ff this week which argues that Christ is holding together the world and seeking to reconcile “all things, whether things in heaven and on earth.” This is a larger scope of the gospel. It suggests that the good news of the gospel is supposed to impact all spheres of culture and society.

      I, for one, would hope our Christian worldview would have some sway in the political decisions of the day. Where else will we find a strong ethic for standing up for the rights of the poor in the midst of a system where money equals power? To me, the sphere of politics does call for engagement – there is more at stake in our political life then in the state of professional sports!

  4. Perhaps I misspoke, just kinda commenting on what wasted energy to get out of sorts when this earthly system doesn’t line up with our political leanings. Yes, emotionally I would lean toward a separatist life style ( Amish ) but the Quaker, Mennonite position is one of engagement, think Wilberforce here, and work toward righting the wrongs that happen in the culture. Christ said his kingdom was not of this world but he fed the hungry, healed the lame and gave sight to the blind. His example calls us to do the same.
    Your posting was well written and lucide, we have no disagreement.
    ………………….Paz en Cristo

    • Thanks Gil. Yes, I agree that the Quaker/Menno worldview is still very engaged in culture. I like what you say about ‘wasted energy.’ I agree that being overly caught up in the dysfunctional situation in Washington is not very productive. Perhaps my original position could have been expanded to talk about how we could funnel our anxiety into more productive action – like volunteering to help out with causes we care about etc.


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