As I listened to the most recent Republican debate, I noticed the minutes drag on and on while the candidates debated building a wall between the United States and Mexico. As I listened, I thought, Isn’t this apropos? Walls are truly our society’s malaise.
Pope Francis recently made headlines when he declared, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.” I would go further than this and say that a society that focuses on building walls is not only not Christian, it is dangerously close to inhuman.
I may have already lost many of you to the combox to argue about immigration. But I am not here to discuss the pros and cons of building a wall or even the issue of immigration. The “wall discussion” in the recent Republican debate is not really about Mexico, and it is not really about immigration. It is about fear.
Polarization has never been so extreme. Values are changing overnight. Relativism reigns on all sides. Many are struggling financially. People are enraged. It is frightening to see society unravel like this. We are obsessed with building walls because we want to protect ourselves from the future.
The problem is that our nation is already full of walls, and it is these walls that endanger our future. There is a wall between Republicans and Democrats. Walls between pro-lifers and pro-choicers. Walls between Millennials and older generations. Walls between religious people and the “spiritual but not religious” crowd. Walls between progressives and conservatives. Walls between neighbors. Among Christians there are walls separating denominations. Walls separating one tribe of Catholics from another.
It seems as if the many schisms in our culture have become a wall impossible to breach. We are a nation living in fear. And fear sublimates to anger. When we need to be angry in order to avoid facing our underlying fear and vulnerability, we find reasons to be angry. And sustained anger often leads to distrust, suspicion and even paranoia.
So, in the midst of these scary circumstances, here are some ways to maintain your inner peace in this election season.
1. Avoid Worst-Case Scenarios
Often when I watch the news or catch up on politics, I immediately go to worst-case scenarios in my mind. I envision society crumbling. I begin to wonder if I should brush up on my survival skills. Learn the edible berries in my area. Save up some emergency supplies. Learn the art of camouflage and hunting. Move away from the convent and live in a yurt in Mongolia. Okay, I am exaggerating, but you get the point.
There is a reason the Bible is chock full of verses about not worrying. God knew it would be one of our greatest crosses we would carry as human beings. When one thinks worst-case scenario, it helps to ask oneself, Is there anything I can do about this? If there is, then do it. If there is not, then take some time away from the news, Facebook posts and other people who agitate and put you in a state of anxiety. Instead, go to adoration, read Matt. 6:25-34 and talk to Jesus.
2. Refuse to Dehumanize Other People
As Christians, we are called to be the light of the world (Matt. 5:14). This light is God’s baptismal presence in us. Every person is a bearer of light, made in the image and likeness of God. When we tear down people rather than ideas we block the light.
One might argue that the people we are tearing down are barely human and so far from the light. This may or may not be true, but one thing is true — we block God’s grace in us when we mock, rip apart, and lob insults at other human beings. No matter how repugnant another person’s views are to us, it is important that we not dehumanize that person and ourselves in our response.
3. Take Time to Pray
I always lose my sanity when I am not praying enough. If you feel your anger boiling or fear bubbling up in you, take some time out to pray. Go, pour your heart out to Jesus. He is the only one who can change hearts and help us face uncertainty and lack of control with grace. He is the only one who can give us courage in situations that seem hopeless.
Plus, our nation needs prayers. More than tirades, incensed blog posts, Facebook arguments and combox sparring, our country needs your prayers.
4. Fast Periodically From Media
The Church sees the media as “gifts of God.” Social media, television and newspapers are gifts of God that can be used in accordance with his plan of salvation. But do we use them in accordance with God’s plan of salvation? Do my words and actions online lead others to Christ?
Media can overtake silence in our life and lead us to constant frenetic activity. When this happens, it might be helpful to take small breaks from media when we need some balance and sanity in our life. If you are feeling frazzled, cut some media time out and replace it with time with God. You won’t regret it.
5. Keep Your Sense of Humor
St. Philip Neri, known for his playful sense of humor and joy, once said, “Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life.” If we find that world events have made us feel grim and sour, then it certainly makes sense to ask ourselves what is robbing us of joy.
If we are allowing circumstances that are out of our control to steal our sense of humor and lightness of being, then it is a sign that something needs to change. It might help to ask your guardian angel to remind you to keep smiling throughout the day!
Any other ideas?
Please leave them in the comments.
Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, is the author of The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church. She recently pronounced her first vows with the Daughters of Saint Paul. She blogs at Pursued by Truth.