“It’s the most important election of our lifetime,” again. It will be every four years for the rest of our lives. Even if redundant, it’s true. Because it’s true, it’s weighty. That is only one factor that adds to the angst many of us feel heading into this election.
There is also the reality that neither candidate holds the moral character for a Christian to feel good about voting for them. This is an election where the vast majority of the country is voting “against the other guy.” That creates a conflict of conscience which (rightly) unsettles the emotions of many Christians.
Finally, there is the social dimension of the election. As both sides more aggressively vilify the other, conversations about politics becomes increasingly precarious. In most settings there is a “clear right answer” (again, because “How could you be for the other guy when…?”), so honest dialogue runs the risk of being ostracized.
So far, we’ve outlined how (a) the weight of the choice, (b) the bad options to choose from, and (c) the social implications for talking about the choices all combine to make this a stressful election season. It’s too important not to vote. Both options have major defects. You risk isolation and ridicule if you talk about it. That’s an awful situation to be in. But it’s the situation we’re all in.
The point of this reflection is on how to manage the anxiety emanating from the election. We’ve defined our context, now let’s look at six ways to mitigate the degree of emotional disruption we experience over the next month.
First, recognize that God has navigated his people through many terrible political leaders. Read the Old Testament. God was faithful and active during the reign of many morally defective leaders with bad political agendas. In both the Old and New Testament (Proverbs 21:1 and I Timothy 2:2) the Bible indicates the quality of political leaders are not a hindrance to God achieving his purposes. Politics are important, but not ultimate.
This lessens, but does not eliminate, the anxiety we feel. In that sense, it is like gauging our level of concern regarding a surgery. Doctors can tell us whether a procedure is minor, significant, or life-and-death. Downgrading the election from life-or-death to significant, may remove the edge of panic, but still leaves us with a significant amount of unrest.
Second, decide which issues are most important to you. One candidate is going to win. That is going to give one party more power. Know what each party platform includes. Assess which aligns with your faith and values best. Based on that, decide how you will vote.
This lessens anxiety a bit more. Anxiety is repetitive in nature. When we’re anxious, we ruminate. It may feel like our mind is running “a mile a minute” but the track is short. We cover the same ground many times in our vexation. Having made up your mind allows you to responsibly enact the third point.
Third, limit (not eliminate) your news intake. Before a choice is made, it is irresponsible not to actively get as much information as you can. After a choice is made, you only need to remain aware of the “big events” that are large enough to change your mind. Because you know the values that guide your vote (point #2), you know what to listen for that might change your mind.
Limiting our unnecessary negative information intake lessens our anxiety. Here we are simply applying Philippians 4:6-8 to our media intake. The media attracts viewers by stirring emotions, rarely pleasant ones. The media plays a vital role in our society. We should give thanks for those who do their job well. But they focus on bad news – crises, scandals, disasters, etc. – to attract viewers. When we’re struggling with anxiety, it is wise to limit our news intake to what is essential.
Fourth, identify what will not change in your life. There are people you will love, roles you will fill, and tasks you will find meaningful regardless of the election outcome. Make a list of these things. Thank God for each one of them. Tell the people how much they mean to you.
This lessens anxiety by reminding you of the good parts of your future, those things that are independent of election results. Remembering these things is a way to remain emotionally grounded. The political winds may blow and cause the periphery parts of our life to sway, but these core things can provide a base for our emotions that politics can’t move.
Fifth, think through what will change in your life. The book of Proverbs repeatedly tells us it is wise to plan. But plan for probabilities, not possibilities. We don’t need to plan for every, “If [person] is elected, then [tragedy] will happen,” prediction we hear in the news or read on the internet. That would be both emotionally exhausting and futile.
Asking, “Is this possibility realistic enough to make it worth planning for? If it’s true, would it change anything in my life?” is a way to vet the significance of the pontifications you hear about the election results. For many of the things we hear, the answer will be “no.” When we get a “no” answer, that gives us the emotional freedom to quit ruminating on that possibility. If we get a “yes” answer, then we have something productive to do instead of getting caught in circuitous worry.
Sixth, look for every opportunity to glorify and serve God between now and November 3. Don’t put your life on hold. God has many things he wants to do in and through your life between now and the election that have nothing to do with an elephant or a donkey.
Looking for, engaging with, and celebrating these opportunities is both a way to honor God and to regulate your emotions. Passive waiting is the most painful kind of waiting. This is merely the application of Matthew 6:25-34. Worry doesn’t add anything to our life. It only robs of us today without enhancing tomorrow. Be fully present and on mission between now and when you vote, and you will realize how true the first point in this reflection really is.