Free to Hope: The 2016 Election

I was standing in line today to cast my vote and was kind of overjoyed that there are still real people involved in this process of taking my name and checking my address off in a box.  I love that we can see today part of what it means to be human: the capacity to use the gift of our rational natures and to make a choice.

 

I must admit that my heart got a bit (too) excited when I realized that all of these adults around me would be receiving the same “Blue Dog” sticker that I would get as I left the voting precinct.  (For those not from here, the “Blue Dog” is a sort of cultural mascot for us, painted in different ways by artist George Rodrigue.)

"I Voted" Blue Dog
“I Voted” Blue Dog Sticker

Yes, you read that correctly–we adults received a sticker today for doing something that we should be doing.  When I was a little girl, my mom used to convince me to practice math problems by promising me a sticker at the end of a completed worksheet.  I only slightly enjoyed the math, but I loved getting the sticker.

 

Something as innocent as this sticker got me thinking.   This right I am exercising today…it’s a right, but it’s also a gift. Too often we get caught up in “rights” language—that which is justly due to another—and we forget that even our rights are gifts for which we must be thankful.

 

As I grow more and more into an adult, I realize how much in my life is actually out of my control.  I, someone who loves to be in control, am learning how this actually relieves some of the unnecessary pressure that I place upon myself.

 

In other words, I am starting to see reality for what it is.

 

I can only offer my best in this present moment that is in front of me.

 

I can’t solve all of the world’s problems. I can’t tell you what will happen in our country after this election is finished. I have many ideas about the potential effects of this or that candidate, but there are more qualified writers for that particular topic. If you want to read something about the potential, impending danger or gloom coming for us, then you should probably stop reading. It’s not that I don’t have my own concerns and worries about what is to come because I do; but trust me, those problems are there regardless of who is elected today to be the next president of the United States of America, not just because of whoever is elected president.  Problems don’t just happen overnight, and it isn’t as if our country was just so perfect until today.

 

It’s only natural that at times we cannot help but consider what is in front of us and believe the state of things to be precarious, but we also must stop sometimes and remember ALL of reality.  We must take the time, not sometimes but especially, on days like today to recall the gifts for which we must be thankful.  …gifts that we might miss if we allow fear to rob us of our joy.  That’s what fear does because fear is “a thief who comes in the night to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

 

I realized today that I need to remember that I, an educated 27-year-old woman, just exercised my right to vote and that if I had been born just 100 years ago, that wouldn’t have been an option for me or any other woman I know.   Only a century ago was a time in history where women in America were not even allowed to vote!  That isn’t that long ago, and how easy it is for me to take this right, this gift, for granted.

 

I have been so tempted to lose all hope in this election, and I felt like my hands were tied walking into that precinct. (No, I didn’t have some life-changing experience where suddenly everything made sense.)

 

But I did remember how excited I was when I was first able to vote for a president 8 years ago. Having  recently written a paper about the beginnings of the feminist movement that highlighted the women and men who worked to have that right of mine be recognized by the law, I couldn’t stop smiling the whole time.  (#nerdcheck)

 

And I did remember how important it is for me to choose to be thankful on a crazy, uncertain day in our nation’s history like today.

 

I think if anything we each need to go to sleep tonight thanking God for how He is providing for us today. In my own prayer time recently, I have felt drawn to begin asking this question when things happen that are difficult for me or that don’t make any sense:

 

“Lord, how is this situation (or experience, etc.) a gift of your Mercy?”

 

I think we each need to ask this question and then seriously take the time to ponder it. If I look at the TV and listen to political analysts and get caught up into the current of the media for too long, I am going to get overwhelmed and anxious—that’s guaranteed because they’re all making predictions about the future, but the future is not yet my reality.

 

I am not called to live in the future.  I am called to live right now.

 

How I use my time today is my choice. I must use it wisely, for even my time in front of me in this moment is a gift.  We can’t create it; we can only take it.  And so I ask you to join me today in taking the time to back away from Facebook, the news, your phone, etc. and give some time back to Him.

 

First, STOP.

 

Stop thinking about what will happen tomorrow.

Stop thinking about how our newly elected president is going to screw up our lives.

Stop fighting with people and trying to win an argument where we basically argue which candidate is worse than the other.

 

Here is a newsflash that I think most of us realize, even if we haven’t admitted it out loud.

 

Neither of the two main candidates is a good option.  Neither candidate is great.

 

And that’s on us because nothing in history happens overnight.

 

Then, BEGIN.

 

After you’ve actually stopped dabbling in the mess of anxiety and “what if’s” and arguments about who did what, how about you begin considering how this moment in our nation’s history is an opportunity for true change?  How about you start asking the LORD to let His Mercy reign in all of this and beg Him to let it be a time of true, good, real change?

 

And then, remember where change actually begins because it does not begin with our president.  This change is not dependent upon who wins an election but is instead based upon the responsibility and freedom that you and I can and should exercise everyday in relation to the people around us—the woman at the grocery store who is used to people walking right past her without even a glance in her direction, the man who is struggling with an addiction and doesn’t know how to get help, the woman who is overwhelmed and feels judged because her child is just being a kid and running and screaming inside of  the restaurant.

 

It’s time we start looking at the people around us and remembering they’re just that–human beings trying to figure it out and live their lives.

 

The United States of America is made up of some amazing people.  We don’t hear about most of them on the news or read about them in the newspapers because they are normal people, working hard to provide for their families and dealing with the struggles of being human and imperfect.  They don’t all have time for vainglory or attention or the power struggle of the presidency.  They’re just trying to live out the power struggle of raising kids who grow up and become teenagers and then make (sometimes really stupid) decisions.  The power struggle of being a parent is enough stress, without having to worry about the power of the presidency.

 

We must remember reality.

 

We had an opportunity today to exercise our  freedom and to have some kind of voice in this entire election process. Our individual vote might be one small voice, but it’s still a voice. Before you cast off that freedom as unimportant and hopeless because of the candidates, I hope you remember the danger our forefathers endured at signing a document that was basically an act of treason.

I hope you remember the woman who endured persecution and mockery because she fought for–and helped win–a woman’s right to vote.

I hope you remember the countless lives lost on the battlefield throughout the years to protect the freedom of the citizens of this young country.

 

And I hope you remember to make a choice today and BE THANKFUL.

 

We may have substantial evidence that causes us to fear that some of our freedoms and rights are under attack; I completely agree. But what I don’t agree with is this insane refusal to remember that the present moment is still right in front of us and that the greatest law is one that can never be legally taken away from us.

 

The greatest law is the Law of Love.

 

This law is a command that requires the kind of love from me that hurts, that’s messy, that’s really difficult to live out because I’m sometimes really tired and don’t want to have another heated debate with someone who won’t listen to one word I have to say.

 

All truly new beginnings require labor pains.

 

Welcome to reality, everyone; we’re experiencing some labor pains.  I am not sure what is to come in our nation’s future, but I am sure of this.  All political systems are just that, systems of policies and laws that are made and run and lived by human beings.

 

…all political systems are ones that will inevitably one day pass away.

 

And so here is my offering of Truth for you.

 

No matter the outcome of the election, our life’s most profound meaning and calling remains unchanged. The reality of my life, and yours, remains.  We are called to offer our lives as a gift to those around us in the uniquely particular circumstances in which we find ourselves living.

 

Today, I will offer that love through a smile to the woman who is making my coffee for me at this coffee shop. Tomorrow, that love will be given to a friend whose going through a rough time. On Saturday, that love will be offered when I get to share in the joy of a friend who will soon be getting married.  In between, I will probably have to offer that love to some person who cuts me off in traffic.  All of these tiny moments are just moments…but they’re what make up a life.

 

Even if somehow my freedoms in this country become more limited, they simply become the shifting of a direction—not the end of the story—not the end of my journey.

 

Even if religious liberties are threatened, NO ONE can take away the freedom I have to speak to the LORD from within my own heart.

 

Even a man or woman in solitary confinement is still free to communicate with the eternal Father, who created us all.  Whether in a palace or a prison, our hearts are always free.

 

No one can take away that freedom.  

No one can bind our soul in chains.  

No one can stop us from speaking to the LORD in the silence of our hearts.

 

…because it’s a freedom, a choice, that He has given to us since the beginning.

 

He is speaking to us everyday, in the people and moments of peace and joy around us, in the questions and doubts of days like today.  As long as I have life on this side of Heaven, I have an opportunity—a mission—to offer love, His Love, to those around me.  And I first must ask for it.

 

These normal day-to-day interactions still have eternal value.

 

Some freedoms truly are bigger than even the president of this great country.

 

If it is true that we “have been created for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14), then that means that there is still some work to be done, some light that we can help shine into the darkness.  As long as there is more light to be had, we will keep marching on.  And Truth has spoken that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it” (John 1:5).  This light is not dependent upon me; it’s dependent upon Him.  He’s the only one with the real Power here.

 

 

We are called today to overcome the kingdom of sin found in our own hearts and to make the kingdom of Heaven present in some small way here on earth. It is not a desire for utopia; it’s a response to an invitation and a call to love.

 

The only kingdom that is lasting and eternal is that of Jesus Christ. If we allow the election to twist our understanding of this present moment and to steal the joy available to us in reality, then we have failed to believe that God’s Mercy is present and available to us in every moment. Sometimes that belief is easy and comfortable; sometimes it is a difficult choice. But always, it is a free gift that I can choose to receive.

 

So whether our country becomes “great again” or whether our country struggles for a bit, let us refuse to give into the propaganda that our country is doomed or to give into the pride that our country is invincible. Let’s choose to start seeing this moment and this 2016 election as a gift of the Lord’s Mercy. We are completely free to choose to respond to this gift by taking responsibility for our part in it, or we can put our heads in the sand and refuse to live like we have any small part to play.

 

May we thank God today for the opportunity to respond to our right to vote, a gift for which–at least right now–we are still free to exercise.

May we thank God today for those who have gone before us to protect our freedom.

May we thank God today for the opportunity to remember what gifts in our lives are most important and for the chance to ask ourselves again if our lives are rightly ordered.

 

And may we truly thank God today that we are Americans, citizens who can choose to build up the Kingdom of God in the world and in our country by responding to the only command that really matters—the only command that is worthy and fully respectful of those who have won and protected for us the right to vote.

 

We call it the law of Love.

 

May our lives reflect its greatness.

 

But most importantly, may our hearts reflect its King.

 

Posted by Sarah Denny

Sarah Denny earned her B.A. in Theology from Our Lady of Holy Cross College and her M.A. in Theology from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. She is currently studying for her PhD in Bioethics at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome, where she travels a few times a year for intensive classes. She has a Certification in Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center and has worked at the Woman’s New Life Center in many different capacities since 2010. Whether working as a para-professional counselor for women in crisis pregnancies or teaching women about their cycles with the Creighton Model System, Sarah is passionate about the gift of what it truly means to be a woman and about how a woman’s awareness of this can positively influence our culture. Seeing the world through the lens of John Paul II’s authentic feminism, Sarah enjoys speaking on various topics related to bioethics, sexual ethics, Theology of the Body, and the gift of woman’s fertility from both a biological and theological standpoint. She currently works as a FertilityCare Practitioner with Hope Woman’s Clinic and hopes to focus her dissertation in the area of authentic women’s healthcare.