But as for me, I almost lost my footing.
My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.
For I envied the proud
when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. (Psalm 73:2-3 NLT)
Resilience: the capacity of a system, enterprise, or a person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances.
-Andrew Zolli, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back
We need to be able to bounce back. After an election that yields results which disappoint us, we need to exercise the resilience which can honor disappointment without yielding to devastation. After election results that seem promising but which then, over the course of the next two years, wither amidst the realities of our new “illiberal democracy,” we need to be able to bounce back after each hit. The Apostle Paul remarks, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor 4:8-10 NIV).
After the midterm elections of 2014, when the campaigns of five incumbents that I was voting and/or praying against —including Kris Kobach and Mitch McConnell—all won, I certainly felt perplexed. I guess I even felt struck down. But when Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, I felt crushed, despairing, abandoned, and destroyed. I didn’t feel like I was carrying the victorious death of Jesus in my body; I felt like I was carrying his bleeding corpse on my back. It paralyzed me for a period. Eventually, I walked out of my depression, and I knew that I didn’t want this to happen to me again. That resolution could have taken the form of a tragic vow, the picture of Scarlett O’Hara dressed in repurposed drapery and declaring futilely to the world, “Ah will never be poow-ah again.” But I knew that I needed to do more than redouble my efforts to campaign for and vote for a “different person.” A House of Representatives that flips Democrat in 2018 will have its own disappointments in store for us. Donald Trump is still president for the foreseeable future. Most importantly of all though, God is trustworthy to his own mind and his own purposes, but not necessarily to our own agendas nor to our own understanding of how history should unfold. For then on out, I didn’t just want to vote for a different person; I wanted to learn how to vote differently.
To be disappointed in 2014 and devastated in 2016 and then to pretend that you just don’t care in 2018, can be any number of things: despair, cynicism, surrender, hyper-religious piety, self-righteousness. The one thing it is not is resilience. We need to be able to bounce back after taking a hit. We especially need to be able to bounce back in a period of illiberal democracy and encroaching fascism. Dark and evil times are called dark and evil for a reason.
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved (Matt 24:6-13 NIV).
“Such things must happen.” Jesus himself warns us that things will fall apart, and that we will be personally affected. We can certainly, if we choose, construct eschatalogies wherein we manage to escape; nonetheless, whereas God is trustworthy to his own mind and his own purposes, we should never presume that he is necessarily so to our national agendas nor to our understanding of how the end times should unfold. “Many will turn away from the faith.” They were unable to bounce back from the hits. “The love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Rocky Balboa, the patron saint of desperate times.
Here are four tips in how to vote resiliently:
1. Make sure you have fully fulfilled God’s calling on you in the moment, to the best of your ability. (See previous issue of the Naaman’s Voters Guide: Vote Faithfully.) If you apply effort to grace, you will become practiced in discerning the voice of God in your life, and these questions will become easier to answer. Did God call you to vote? Then make sure you did vote. Did he call you to vote for a specific person? Did he call you to campaign, to volunteer hours, to donate money, or to mobilize your friends? Did he call you to run for office? Did you feel a spirit of petitionary prayer move within you? If so, did you pray? I’m not asking how successful you were at any of these efforts; I’m simply asking whether you were faithful in seeking out the Lord’s leading and then responding to it to the best of your ability. If yes, then take a deep breath. Faithfulness is a soft cushion even if you are thrown from a great height.
2. Learn to abandon the outcomes to God. I find myself quoting often from page 209 of Dallas Willard’s book Renovation of the Heart. I quote it because I myself need to hear it. I am a “One” on the Enneagram, a perfectionist, a reformer. I am an endeavorer by spirit. I endeavor greatly, which means that when I fail, I fail dramatically. Willard writes:
We will find his yoke [the easy yoke of Christ, Matt 11:28-30] an easy one and his burden a light one, because in learning from him, we have found rest to our soul. What we have learned, is primarily, to rest our soul in God. Rest to our soul is rest in God. My soul is at peace only when it is with God, as a child with its mother. What we most learn in his yoke, beyond acting with him, is to abandon outcomes to God, accepting that we do not have in ourselves—in our own “heart, soul, mind, and strength”—the wherewithal to make this come out right, whatever “this” is.
Our longings are strong but they are weak in the face of (fill in the blank): PAC money, habituated voting, Russian hackers, Trump’s ability to mobilize his base, gerrymandering, hostile high courts, entrenched incumbencies, authorized voter suppression…, the ascendency of the idolatry of Power and Money. Even if the system was working perfectly, we would still find ourselves powerless to change the mind of another of our fellow human beings. Can you get 51 percent of the American electorate to care like you do for asylum seekers? Can you even sway members of your own family? Willard continues, “Even if we ‘suffer according to the will of God,’ we simply ‘entrust our souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right’ (I Peter 4:19). Now. This is a major part of that meekness and lowliness of heart that we also learn in his yoke. And what rest comes with it!”
Back when we were living in India, and going through a rough patch, and badly in need of resilience, one of our dear friends interacted with us over this passage from Willard. “Always leave room for God,” she told us. You do what you can (see item #1 above) but you don’t fill up the gap between desire and success with worry or energetic frenzy. Instead, declare that space to be God’s space. Let him do with it what he will. I think a corollary to this, post-election, is to politely refuse to listen to the phrase “God is still on the throne” unless you hear it from his lips first or simultaneously. I’m not disputing that this phrase is always true, whoever says it and in whatever context. Nonetheless, false comforters will tell you to lift up your head because “God is still on the throne.” God the tender shepherd knows how much time you need for grief and healing. False gloaters will quote Daniel 2 and allude to Cyrus in the Old Testament, and try to convince you that “God is still on the throne,” and that Donald Trump is a mere two seats away. You don’t have to buy it. Perhaps you will need to ask him directly, maybe in the presence of a skilled spiritual director: “God, are you still on the throne?”
3. Treat election results like prayer, answered or unanswered. I for one am praying that Kris Kobach does not become the new governor of Kansas. Of course, I prayed that he would lose to Jeff Colyer in the primaries, and I prayed that he would lose the Secretary of State race in 2014. So much for prayer, huh? So what does this data reveal?: That I suck at prayer? That I am not interested in discerning the will of God? That I wasn’t “prevailing” enough in my prayers? That God isn’t interested in politics, and therefore no Christian should be? That Kris Kobach is favored by God? That God hates Mexicans? That God hates me? That I should give up on prayer? The only thing the data reveals, once again, is that God is God and I am not. I am not God but neither is Kris Kobach nor any majority of voters who might put him in office. The history books might be written by the victors; not so the Bible.
There is little answer for unanswered prayer. Unanswered prayer is for all disciples of all times what that Saturday was for the original disciples, that Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. There is no earthly explanation for the existence of that Saturday, except perhaps to fulfill a prophecy derived from Jonah in the belly of the fish (Matt 12:40). But one day, like that Saturday, we’ll return to those unanswered prayers and call them Holy. Meanwhile, we breath through its minutes and hours and await the Resurrection.
Athanasius once wrote about St. Anthony, the desert father:
This was the advice he gave to those who came to him. And with those who suffered he sympathized and prayed. And oft-times the Lord heard him on behalf of many: yet he boasted not because he was heard, nor did he murmur if he were not. But always he gave the Lord thanks and besought the sufferer to be patient, and to know that healing belonged neither to him nor to man at all, but only to the Lord, who does good when and to whom He will. The sufferers therefore used to receive the words of the old man as though they were a cure, learning not to be downhearted but rather to be long-suffering. And those who were healed were taught not to give thanks to Antony but to God alone (56.)
4. Move straight from the voting booth to the temple sanctuary. I am referring to Psalm 73. I suggest you read Psalm 73 in its entirety, then “as needed,” as if I was a doctor writing a prescription. Here are a handful of guiding thoughts:
The Psalmist is not afraid to recognize that there are indeed people afoot in the world who appropriately deserve the label “wicked.” Their hearts are rightfully called “callous” and their imaginations “evil.” There is no equivocation about it. The Psalmist doesn’t name names, but it is obvious that he has some specific examples in mind.
The success of the wicked manages to delude and/or confuse many. Verse 10 (NIV) reads: “Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.” Hebrew scholars are uncertain exactly what this verse means. It may refer to the masses who are hoodwinked by the wicked, or it may refer to how perplexing this situation is for everyone. The NLT translates it: “And so the people are dismayed and confused, drinking in all their words.” Either interpretation indicates that Psalm 73:10 might be a theme verse for our times.
The prosperity of the wicked represents a legitimate spiritual crisis for many in their discipleship. The wicked flaunt their violence and ask, “Does the Most High even know what’s happening?” The Psalmist is asking the same question in his heart, and is tempted to give up and join in: “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.”
Once again the Psalms validates our emotions. Grief, perplexity, anger are all amoral and legitimate responses to what happens to us in the world. Admittedly, there are temptations for unexpressed and unprocessed emotions, such as the acquiescence to evil to which we’ve already mentioned. Bitterness is a temptation (v. 21) as is abandonment and desertion (v. 27.) A “weak spirit” however is not a sin, nor is lament which, on reflection, might come across as “foolish, ignorant, or senseless” (v 22.). Instead, even senseless animals belong to God (v. 23) and “God remains the strength of my heart” (v. 26).
When does the Psalmist bounce back? It is NOT in verse 16 when he tried to understand WHY. “So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper. But what a difficult task it is!” In the middle of your pain and perplexity, we don’t need to add the “difficulty” of trying to figure out what God is up to?
When does the Psalmist bounce back? Verse 23: “Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.” He couldn’t hope to understand why the wicked prosper, but apparently “the destiny of the wicked” is an understanding that is granted us. “Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction. In an instant they are destroyed, completely swept away by terrors. When you arise, O Lord, you will laugh at their silly ideas as a person laughs at dreams in the morning.
Resilient people lament their pain, admit—like Job eventually does—their inability to figure things out, rests in the WHOM they belong to, and contemplate their own destiny.
Then I realized that my heart was bitter,
and I was all torn up inside.
I was so foolish and ignorant—
I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.
Yet I still belong to you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
leading me to a glorious destiny v. 21-24).
We can bounce back.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever. (v. 26)
But as for me, how good it is to be near God!
I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter,
and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do. (v. 28)
Next issue of the Naaman’s Voters Guide for 2018: Vote Forgivingly