Strengthen My Hands
I have been deliberating all week, knowing that I need to write about the current state of our nation, but unable to find just the right words that skirt the line of an “appropriate” response that also attempts to avoid offending or criticizing. I doubt it’s possible, yet I now sense the call the share.
But first, a warning. I work very hard to avoid melodrama. I’m annoyed by it when I see it and probably err on the side of underplayed most of the time. I see drama like a pain scale—I reserve the elevated levels for those moments when things are really, truly terrible, so people believe me when it happens. So if something here sounds like melodrama, it isn’t meant to be, and I’ve put much thought and prayer into the decision to share.
These are my thoughts, my feelings, my story.
I, like many others over the past week, feel anxious, devastated, sad, angry, frustrated, and many other emotions, over the behaviors and decisions of the highest leaders in our country, perhaps the world. Layered on top of that is a tremendous disappointment in some fellow Americans. America was founded on principles of individual freedoms—freedom to worship, freedom to speak our opinions and to fight for what we want, freedom to find fault with our leaders and express our dislikes. We have never and will never all share a common groupthink, and that is good! That exemplifies the diversity that is the foundation of an ever-evolving democracy of the people and for the people. We are blessed beyond what we almost always understand to live in this unbelievable country where I have these freedoms…is it a surprise to us that the rest of the world would literally risk their lives (and often lose them!) to be a part of us?? We can’t really understand it, unless we’ve been there. Most of us are privileged beyond measure.
While differences are nothing new, we seem to have crossed a threshold in the way we treat each other that I have not seen in my lifetime. Now that’s not to say it’s never happened before. I absolutely hate seeing documentaries on how we treated racial minorities in the past. Whites using scripture to justify slavery and later, oppression and violence toward minorities, hate speech and threats to others who have differing opinions or choose to stand up for the rights of others. Civil rights activists jeered, brutalized, killed. In our history books, in school, we learned those were dark times in America. Times when things were different, we just didn’t know better back then, but now we are enlightened, we are better, we are now an America where those in the past who have had to say “I have a dream” can say I no longer have to dream…
This is the America I was born into in 1973. Far from perfect, but something to be proud of.
I cannot say that today, on January 29, 2017. I am not proud of us as a nation. I am appalled by many of my fellow Americans and my sisters and brothers in Christ. I want to share a few things that seem to be misconstrued when we approach this area:
- Most of us who feel this way are NOT sore losers. Many of us didn’t vote for either primary candidate, and many voted democrat as the better of two options. Our displeasure with the current administration has nothing to do with “losing” the election.
- Most of us are not “whiny liberals” and we are not “having a tantrum” because one candidate didn’t win. There probably are some…I don’t personally know any. Wanting to care for those who are the least among us is not only a Biblical imperative, but a Constitutional right. Remember that part about promoting the general welfare of our people? Yes, that means all of us, and please don’t forget that America was founded by people who sacrificed much and committed a great many moral wrongs to take for themselves a land that was not theirs so they could escape tyranny and live with rights and freedoms.
- Protesting has been an acceptable and effective method of civic engagement since before our country was a country. Boston tea party anyone?? Calling this un-American is, well, un-American.
- I believe it is flat out unacceptable to lie. I’m not naïve enough to think our leaders have never lied to us before, but I think it may be safe to say never at this level. It’s not okay.
- We must treat each other with respect. When I share my opinion, whether on social media or in person, I do not understand the persistent need to bully, tease, tear down, call names, repeatedly point out the faults of other candidates, etc. We are human beings, on all sides of this, and it hurts. Guilt may be assuaged when the comments are made behind the glowing screens of our smartphones, but it does not hurt less when it is read on the other side.
And now for what some will likely see as a melodramatic pivot, although this is very real to me.
I have lived in relationship plagued by narcissism. I do not say that to hurt anyone, it is simply a reality I had to live with for a long time that few people know about. When people talk about gaslighting, I know exactly what it is because I lived it. It is a nightmare, and it steals your sense of reality and self. You stop believing in your own ability to think and examine what is real. Lies are a part of your fabric of life and you are no longer able to determine truth from lies. Every waking moment is spent trying to avoid disturbing the waters, because once disturbed, the boat isn’t rocked, it is hit with a tsunami from which you must crawl out of, choking, gasping for breath, rubbing sand out of your eyes…so you can get back in the boat, and wait for the next wave to hit.
Think this is melodramatic yet?
From the beginning of the primaries last year, I instinctively knew what we were dealing with…because I had seen it all before, had lived it. I understood that the charismatic personality and promises, carefully drafted to address the deepest hurts existing in America, would entice those who felt let down by the powerful few making decisions in the country. And let me say, I get it! I get that we have problems! I get that there are too many factories closing! I get that taxes are too high and that our elite live in privilege and grandeur while the other 99% of the country bears the burdens. I get why a D.C. overhaul sounds appealing and given the right candidate, I would absolutely support that. But I also get that we must still take care of ALL Americans, stay true to who we are as a country, and do so as morally upright and transparent as possible.
I know where we are likely headed…and it terrifies me.
Melodramatic? Not to me.
So as I struggle in not only my sadness and distress over the daily news, but also a sense of repeated retraumatization as I again experience daily lies and manipulations from a man with power over me, what I don’t need fellow Americans teasing and bullying as if all of this is okay and we’re just being whiny. You are absolutely entitled to your opinion… but so am I. I can share it, in person or on social media, and you do not need to attack it. In turn, I do not attack yours.
Finally, I am reminded of one of my favorite passages of scripture. I use this in a devotional for my students at the beginning of their internships, when everything seems insurmountable to them. At the beginning of Nehemiah, the Israelites have returned to a destroyed Jerusalem. The walls of Jerusalem have been demolished and they are devastated. Nehemiah finds himself in a position to do something about it and is granted permission to rebuild. He mobilizes volunteers from his own people, but they are constantly bullied and manipulated by those inhabiting the land who want to see their efforts fail. In fact, Nehemiah 2:10 states, “…they (the Horonites and Ammonites) were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites”. Sound familiar? Finally, in the midst of trickery, Nehemiah turns once again to God and pleads: “Now, strengthen my hands” (Neh. 6:9b). This is striking to me in its simplicity. He does not ask for the burden to be lifted, he asks for strength to endure.
We are in difficult days and this burden may not be lifted, but our voices and our actions certainly can…and should. I write this for me as much as for anyone else who finds it helpful: I cannot simply throw up my hands and say the opposition is too strong and I cannot make a difference. I cannot say (like so many I’ve talked to lately) that the daily news is too hard to watch, and bury my head in the sand. I cannot say that as a faculty member and a Christian I must not speak up. I have to plead:
Strengthen my resolve.
Strengthen my will.
Strengthen my voice.
Strengthen my love for all people regardless of our opinions.
Strengthen my patience.
Strengthen my ability to listen.
Strengthen my hands.