‘I can’t quite believe we’re back here again.’
That’s how I had intended to begin this post when I started planning it towards the end of last week. I didn’t quite realise then the poignancy this line would hold. I’d been thinking about rushing headlong into (yet) another election. Not considering that we’d be, so painfully, ‘here’ once again.
But while the circumstances are far removed from what I anticipated the focus of our news broadcasts and media to be at the beginning of this week, my thoughts are still the same. Perhaps, though, I see them in a slightly different light.
On Thursday, we’ll be called to make a choice. Indeed, before we even get to a polling station we’ll make the choice as to whether or not we will actually use our vote. By then we will (allegedly at least) have had the opportunity to consider our options, based on what we may have watched / read / listened to from our politicians via the media and so, we will put an ‘X’ on a piece of paper and declare our choice.
I find the decision making process difficult. I listen, I read, I watch but, if I’m honest, I find it hard to believe all of those words. It can be so easy to say things to get support yet, we don’t have to delve too far into our history to see a trail of broken promises and empty words in the wake of an election. But still, I will make a choice and I will, all being well, make my mark on the ballot paper because, we can’t let past disappointments determine our future. We have to hope and trust that somewhere out there, someone is working for the good of the people.
If ever there was reason to never trust again, surely it is in the aftermath of recent atrocities. But what would happen if we all just shut ourselves in and stopped living life as we have known it? If the concert in Manchester on Sunday evening showed us anything, it is that there are people who are willing to step outside of their fears and seek to build a better, more positive future. So many could have made the choice to hide themselves away from such a big gathering, and who could blame them? But they didn’t. They stepped out. They acted in faith and they showed hope in the midst of pain and despair.
Perhaps some of the most significant choices this week will be made by the politicians themselves. They must decide where they will go, what they will do and the words they will use in these final days of canvassing. A decision-making process that, no doubt, has been made increasingly difficult in light of the attacks. The very fact that when something so tragic happens we see canvassing halted, albeit temporarily, suggests, I think, that while we need the politicians to run our country and, as different people they will invariably have different opinions and therefore a range of political allegiances, they know only too well that the earthbound ties that we have are inferior to the wider cords of humanity which bind us.
They may all have different ways of declaring their views and opinions and of moving forward, but all are united by a common desire to end this kind of hurt and pain and terror, just like the rest of us who witness these terrible events unfolding and feel heartbroken for people we have never even met. Why? Because we see people who want nothing more than to simply get on with the living their lives.
Once the polling stations close and the votes are counted, there will both winners and those, well, less successful. In each category, the candidates will have choices to make. Things don’t always go the way we hope, plan or anticipate, but how we respond has such a massive significance to our own and others’ futures. For some, the election results may herald the end of a career, for others, the beginning of something new. For still others, it may mean having to make choices that require overcoming personal prejudice, all in the name of moving forward.
But move forward they, and we, must. Imagine if, over the years the politicians for whom things hadn’t quite worked out had refused to move on. Imagine the logistical and accommodation issues in 10 Downing Street if Prime Ministers had refused to recognise that their time in office had come to an end. Dwelling in the past only leads to bitterness and stagnation. We have to make the choice to deal with the results – as do the politicians. Everyone won’t be happy with how things work out, but if our government is to move forward, they must make the choice to work together and overcome differences. The choice to look forward, rather than simply to keep looking back and, undoubtedly, get stuck there.
Having been brought up in Northern Ireland throughout the 1980s and early ’90s, we know only too well the reality of killing and suffering as an apparent means to an end. Recently, we were chatting with family about how things have changed from ‘then’ until now. To get to where we are has not been easy and many people have been hurt and disappointed along the way, but I don’t believe there are any who would want to return to the dark days of what we know as ‘The Troubles.’ If anything, recent events have reminded us of how far we have come and how, tough choices can sometimes help to lead us into a new, more hopeful era. Our choices impact not only ourselves, but those around us and none of us want a world full of fear for our children or, dare I say it, even for ourselves.
Last night, I had to speak truthfully to my ten year old, when all I wanted to do was lie. ‘All these attacks are scaring me,’ she confided, words echoed in her fear-filled eyes. All I wanted to do was tell her she had nothing to fear. That it would all be OK and she should just turn over and go to sleep. But, when we emphasise the importance of honesty to our children, we have no choice but to honour that in our own lives. And so, I had to be honest and tell her, that her fears weren’t silly. That they were justified but, that we can’t be controlled by this fear. Much as we want to, this is our opportunity to shine – to pour light into the darkness as we go about our daily lives. There are dark, evil acts but, there is always the opportunity to demonstrate love and hope in spite of the fear. We have seen so, so many acts of bravery and love and selflessness – more numerous than the acts of destruction. And so, in faith we pray that love will prevail. That those of us bound by the cords of humanity will be united, regardless of our political persuasion or background, in one common goal to cancel out the darkness with light.
Whatever the outcome of the election, we must all choose how we live. We can be consumed by hurt and regret and hatred, or we can seek to show the best of ourselves, in an effort to make this world a better place for those we share it with.
I cannot begin to comprehend how someone makes the decision to end the life of another human. I cannot begin to understand how those who have been so deeply and personally affected by these acts make the choice to move forward. But I do believe we all want a better, less frightening world, one where our children don’t need to be consumed by fears that keep them awake at night, because of the ‘What ifs?’
Just as our politicians will choose how they appeal to us in the days leading up to Thursday, so we will make the choice as to whether or not we vote and, if we do, where we put our ‘X’. But one thing sustains as we make these choices: the God who made us, who made us beings with free will and the ability to make choices; the God who hates evil and who reminds us that ‘perfect love casts out fear’, the One who sees our suffering and seeks to draw alongside. The One who reminds us to ‘let everything you do be done in love.’ He is with us, comforting and upholding. He promises that He will not let us down; that He will sustain us and that even when we cannot make sense of what is happening, He has sent His Spirit to help us: ‘In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.’ (Romans 8 vs 26)
Nothing can separate us from His love and I am thankful that in our fears, we can make the choice to turn to Him, to be reminded of His call for us to love. That we can lean on His everlasting arms, remembering that He is bigger than any election result and that we can decide to choose love, not always the easy choice but the one which will last, long after our choices have been made and the ballot boxes have been packed away once more:
‘Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres … Love never fails … For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears … And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’ 1 Corinthians 13
Above all else, let’s choose love.