There is an interesting exchange that takes place at the end of the book of John that I believe can teach us something about this current presidential race. Jesus, after compassionately forgiving Peter and explaining to Peter how he would die, heard Peter ask, "What about him?" The "him" was the beloved disciple known as John. Jesus had just forgiven Peter and told Peter how he would die and instead of Peter focusing on Jesus' words about his own life, Peter was worried about John. Jesus' reply to Peter after asking, "What about him?" “Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”” (John 21:22 NIV) In essence, Jesus was telling Peter, "Don't worry about John. You focus on what you can control. And that is your ability and willingness to follow me."
While the central meaning of this passage is centered around Peter's call to follow Christ, I believe there is one emphasis from Jesus' interaction with Peter that we can apply to this current crazy presidential election. Focus on what you can control. To Hillary, Bernie, the Donald, Jeb, Marco, Cruz, Kasich, and Carson...Please stop worrying so much about what everyone else is doing and saying. Focus on what you can control.
Losing Power and Control
The current candidates can control their actions, their messages, and their campaigns. What they cannot control is whether or not someone called them a "liar." But, they can control how they respond to that accusation. (By the way, what does it say about American political discourse when a party's debate looks similar to a toddler argument?) They cannot control someone else's immigration agenda, but they can clearly layout their own immigration agenda. They cannot control someone else's email account, but they can speak on their theories of proper uses of technologies in the government. They cannot control someone else's political record, but they can promote their own records and accomplishments.
I'm not suggesting pie-in-the-sky policy. I know that a primary way elections are won is through compare and contrast. But, I believe that compare and contrast must be proactive instead of reactive. What we see now mostly is reactive responses from candidates struggling to define themselves. It is hard to define who you are as a person, let alone as a politician, when you spend so much time being reactive. Instead of focusing on controlling what they can control, I am afraid that the current candidates have allowed the body politic to spiral into games of "he said, he said" or "he said, she said;" where they are more reactionary than reflective, more angry than purposeful, and more focused on the other than themselves.
When a person or campaign spends so much time worried about what the other person or campaign is doing, they are surrendering power and control. They are telling the other candidate or campaign, "I will react to whatever you say. Therefore, my reactions are based on your actions. In essence, you (the other person) will dictate how I respond. You have the power or the control to influence my response." We do not need a president who will give power or control to other world leaders through the process of being reactive or over-concerned about those leaders' actions.
What We Need In A President
Instead, I believe we need a president who will focus on what they can control; their words, their actions, their ideas. We need a president who will be proactive instead of reactive. We need a president who will not even acknowledge the accusations and childish actions of opponents and bullish world leaders. Instead, we need a president who knows that the way you beat a bully is by controlling what you can control; you put up a boundary if necessary or even ignore that bully if his or her words or actions are loudly empty. We need a president who has a strong and clear understanding of who they are as a person and leader; a president who is very good at focusing on what they ultimately can control; themselves.
Sadly, if our current batch of candidates had been with Jesus on the seashore with John and Peter, I'm afraid that they would have been so over-concerned about each other that they would have missed Jesus all together. Kind of like being so over-concerned with each other that they forget that the office of the president is a noble and honorable and special and overwhelming office to pursue. Nothing ever noble, honorable, special, or overwhelming deserves the current political spectacle we see.
Lord, help us.
Every ministry or organization has "them." You know, the "them" that no one wants to have or be around. We might walk by them on a Sunday in the church hallway or share a half-hearted smile with them across the cubicle at work, but deep down, we don't like being around "them." And we don't like being around "them" for many reasons. For some, they smell, their hygiene is terrible, and their appearance is (in our own identified minds) shameful. For others, they have personalities that are odd. They might not get personal cues or they will talk incessantly or lack tact when in public. We want to avoid "them" because "them" makes us uncomfortable.
Honestly, I want to avoid the person who has bad hygiene because I don't want their lack of social gravitas making me look bad. And regarding the person who lacks social cues...I don't want to be around them because I feel as if my time would be better served with someone who understands boundaries. That way, I wouldn't have to do the hard work of putting up boundaries myself and how dare someone interrupt my day when I have "more important things to do."
But, there's a harsh truth when it comes to "them." I believe I/we are "them." I don't like hanging around the person with bad hygiene because, deep down, I feel shame. I don't feel shame because they're shameful. I feel shame because I am afraid that I would be unaccepted if people saw my "inner hygiene," the hygiene of my soul. I might take a shower and brush my teeth every day and look presentable on the inside, but, I'm constantly afraid that if people saw the person on the inside; the little kid who is hungry for acceptance, or the public speaker who wonders if his ability to speak is good enough, or the dad who wrestles with whether or not he spends enough time with his kids; I wonder if people saw that me, "Would I be accepted?"
The bottom line is I am "them."
Scripture teaches that Jesus split heaven and earth in order to empty himself, take on the form of a servant, and be found in the likeness of humanity so that the separation between the ultimate "US" (the clean and holy Triune God) and "them" (ungodly, unclean, unholy humans) might be obliterated through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Because of Jesus' willingness to not only hang out with "them," but to become one of "them," we have the ability to live a life free of guilt, shame, and condemnation. The "them" we see in the hallway of church or the cubicle at work are not defined by their hygiene or social awkwardness. They're defined by Jesus' love for them. The "them" I see in the mirror everyday; the guy who wonders if his leadership is strong enough, his father skills good enough, his husband skills loving enough; that guy in the mirror is defined by Jesus' love for him. They are not "them." I am not "them." We are not "them." Instead, we are "US;" treasured children of the Most High God that have been redeemed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So, next time to you see that person at church or in the cubicle or across the dinner table, give them a hug, a handshake, and high five and embrace the reality that we are redeemable, beautiful, and of a great value because God doesn't see us as "them," but as one of his children.
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Harrodsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.