An Invitation to Detachment
I was pleasantly surprised by my feelings on Election Day. Maybe it was the fact that 2020 has been a largely isolating year (and it was exciting just to see people) but waiting in a winding line at the polling place filled me with hope. I knew that many people would not be voting the same way that I was voting, yet… there was such a sense of camaraderie. None of us knew who the others were voting for, but we all knew that we were there, together—fellow citizens, all caring about our country.
Within the circle of my family and friends, I have loved ones who voted Democrat, Republican, and Independent. There was a time in my life when that would have deeply distressed me. There was a time in my life when the election would have upset me or impassioned me. Instead, this year I see it for what it truly is—an invitation to detachment.
Civic Duty and Stewardship
I love the United States, and I am grateful for the many freedoms and opportunities that I have received because of my citizenship here. However, I am not an American citizen first. I am, first, a member of the mystical body of Christ. The actions I take and the decisions I make must reflect that reality.
Sadly, many of the values that are widely accepted in the United States right now are not reflective of what our Catholic faith teaches. If you voted for a candidate in one of the two major parties, you likely could pinpoint some discrepancies (some more serious than others) between your candidate’s beliefs and Catholic doctrine. The Catholic faith believes in the dignity of life from conception until natural death, in responsible stewardship of creation, in an end to racism, in the care and concern for the refugee and immigrant, and in all people—especially those in poverty—being fed, clothed, and provided for. Different candidates stand in different places on those issues, and no major candidate or political party fully embraces the teaching of the Catholic Church.
So, if that is true… why bother voting? Why not just throw up our hands in despair and put our energy into the Church and ignore politics?
As I stated above—I am grateful for my American citizenship. Recently, I discovered some videos by a North Korean defector who is now a human rights advocate. In listening to her descriptions of life in her birth country, I realized—my citizenship is not something to take lightly. It affords me privileges and a voice that many in other countries do not have.
I am reminded of the parable of the talents, in which Jesus conveyed to his disciples the importance of being good stewards of the gifts that God has given us. Living in a country where we have freedoms that citizens of dictatorships may not have—that is no small thing. It is a gift. We must be wise stewards of it, by prayerfully discerning how best to practice our civic duties (such as voting).
Voting is one way that we can be good stewards of the gift of citizenship in a country that is freer than many others. It is not something to take lightly, and it filled me with so much hope to see how many people stewarded that gift so seriously on Tuesday.
But now… what about the results?
Detachment and Trust
I’m guessing that many readers of this article did not vote for the media’s presumed winning candidate in this presidential election. If we find ourselves in that category, how ought we view the outcome?
We must view this election—and all elections—with detachment and trust.
Should we care about our country and our leaders? Certainly. But should our leaders and politics be the most important thing to us? Definitely not. This world is passing away, and we do not belong to it. We belong to the world to come.
Although the Lord calls us to steward the gifts and responsibilities that He has given us in this life, we are not expected to control every outcome. We are called to turn to God our Father, with the trust and detachment of children.
My youngest child is a three-year-old. She certainly disagrees with my decisions. She routinely attempts to bargain with me, and to win me over to her way of thinking. But no matter how much she begs, I sometimes need to say “no.” Many times, this upsets her greatly. With a stash of leftover Halloween candy in the kitchen, she just cannot understand why she cannot have a piece with her breakfast. As her mother, I acknowledge the goodness of Halloween candy, but I also know that it is more fitting to be eaten at a later hour. She may protest, but ultimately — she trusts me. She lets go of that desire as an act of detachment and focuses her attention on more pressing matters (like coloring on her hand in marker).
Like my preschooler, we can feel frustration, upset, or disappointment about the ongoing election results, but we are ultimately called to detachment. We are called to abandon our desires into the hands of God our good Father, trusting that he will provide for us. His provision may not be what we thought we wanted, but he is focused on our eternal well-being in a way that does not always make sense in this temporal world.
Let us put our leaders and the election results in the hands of God, trusting that whatever happens, we can trust Him.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article implied that the election results were final. We have corrected this error. [Michael Lichens, editor at Catholic Exchange / 12 Nov. 2020 @ 12:05pm (EST).]