“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Proverbs 18:2
Last week I wrote about my decision to pray for Donald Trump. (If you missed it, you can read it here.) I have stayed true to my commitment so far. I don’t know if praying for Donald Trump is helping him, but I think it might be helping me. Some conversations I had last weekend at an out-of-town wedding in Cape Girardeau, Missouri definitely felt like a test. Would I close myself off to others? Or would I try to meaningfully connect? So, did I pass the test? Let me tell you about it.
First, I carpooled with my sister and one of the bride’s other friends from New Orleans. During the nearly 9-hour car ride, our carpool companion, a devout Catholic in her 70s, brought up topics like gay marriage, abortion, and the election. It was immediately clear to me that I had very different views from her on these topics, and I was not thrilled about the turn in our conversation. I was preparing to clam up and just nod my head. But I didn’t. I decided to engage. I tried to actually listen and put myself in her shoes. Would I feel the same way if I had been brought up when and how she was? If I had gone to the same church as her, would I hold similar beliefs? It was evident that her beliefs were the result of her deep desire to love God and care for his people. Even though I didn’t agree with her logic and conclusions, I couldn’t help but respect her for living out her beliefs. I told her that I could understand some of her points. I acknowledged that abortion is a heartbreaking issue and used some great points from my blogger crush Rachel Held Evans’ post on the topic here. I tried to share my opinion by using “I” statements so that she wouldn’t feel attacked or belittled. In the end, we didn’t come to a consensus, but I left the conversation feeling good that we had discussed tough issues without personally attacking each other the way political candidates tend to do.
Later in the weekend, a good friend of the bride (this one is the same age as me) and I got into a conversation about health care, poverty, Hillary’s emails and speaking fees, and her uncertainty about who she is going to vote for. She spoke from her own experience of working in healthcare and interacting with people in poverty and how she struggles to understand some of their choices. I spoke to her of my experiences teaching and serving students and their families in a poor community. Again, while it was clear that we disagreed on several topics, I think we both felt seen and heard in the interaction. She even came up to me later in the weekend to tell me that one of the things I had said about poverty had really made her think, and she thanked me for that. During our talks she was very kind and sincere. Not at all the picture of the angry conservative voter in my mind during much of this election.
Was I perfect? No. I responded perhaps too forcefully to another person who suggested to a wedding guest from North Carolina that the deadly storms and flooding in her state might be God’s punishment for our sin and immorality. I retorted that the only message from God was that we need to be better stewards of the environment and work to reverse the effects of man-made climate change. That effectively ended that conversation.
However, overall, last week’s decision to start to pray for Trump and to be open to engage with others helped put me in a better mindset to approach these conversations with more openness and respect. I often live in a bubble of like-minded friends, so I’m grateful that these conversations helped me humanize “the other side” and restore my faith in my fellow Americans. I hope the people I interacted with feel the same way.
What about you? Have you had any recent conversations with people who are different from you during this election season? Do you have any strategies or insights to bring light and love to these types of interactions? I would love it if you shared your responses below. And thanks for reading!