It only takes a cursory glance at the news or at our social media feeds to realize there’s a lot going on in our world these days. And it’s affecting our friends, our family, and us, too. It’s hard enough to hold on to God for our own spiritual health, let alone to know how to respond to others.
Is there something we can do to help with all of this negativity? Is prayer enough? This balancing act can be difficult when so many voices are shouting all around us. It can be tempting to jump into the internet debates and get riled up in the world’s passions.
It can be tempting to forget that we as Christians are called not to reflect the ways of this world, but to reflect Christ. Instead of getting involved in the negative banter, how can we instead be instruments of peace, reconciliation, and compassion?
1. Listen first
How often do we actually listen when others talk to us? I have a horrible memory when it comes to learning names. I have to visualize their name (visual learner problems) before I can commit their name to memory. But the other problem is that I’m usually so focused on what I’ll say next that I don’t listen fully when they tell me their name. I need to listen first.
When it comes to divisive issues, it’s even harder to listen. We want to close our ears or speak louder to drown out their opinion. Or we listen only enough to find something to attack, criticize, or shoot down.
We listen enough to win, to be right.
If we hope to reflect Christ in this world, we must first listen. It will take patience, it will take work, but it is necessary if we want to actually respect the person before us (whether behind a screen or not).
2. Questions over answers
A characteristic of Orthodox spirituality that I’ve grown to appreciate is the preference of giving questions instead of answers. Usually, behind someone’s opinion is a host of assumptions that are informing their current stance and could potentially prevent them from receiving the answer the Church might give. Likewise, in our society of debate and attacks, we see a lot of calls to action and demands, we see name-calling and assumptions being made.
So after we have listened to the complaints and concerns of those around us, we need to ask more questions to get a clearer picture of how the person is forming their opinion. Why do they feel scared? What is behind their fear? What about their opponent causes them so much anger and passion? What personal experiences have led them to their current stance or worldview? Have they made friends with a person that holds the opposing view?
Sometimes we just need to be asked questions to bring us back to earth. We just need a new perspective. Sometimes our assumptions and passions puff us up so much we need a bit of a deflation to see the reality of our own prejudices.
3. Unity over division
The devil is the one who divides; the Holy Spirit is the One who unites. The Holy Spirit strengthens us and inspires us to seek union over division, to help heal the wounds of division rather than reopening them. We are called to be sons of God by bringing peace into a world of enemies.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9). The Christian is one who brings people together, who helps divided “sides” unite without expecting everyone to be the same, who speaks love into a world of black and white. “Love your enemies, and do good...and you will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35).
The world’s factions don’t need us to join their sides, though of course, we are certainly allowed our opinions; they need us to bring the presence of the Lord into their midst and to speak truth that defies their limitations. We should remember that we will never have perfect answers to suffering and, on our own, cannot heal other people completely because Christ is the answer. He bears the burdens of our brokenness alone, but by being connected to Him and desiring to share His love with our broken world, He strengthens us to bear one another’s burdens through the Church.
We can and should be agents of unity and understanding because God has already united us to Him. "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).
Jesus has already given us so much; it’s time we give back to Him by giving of our compassion, our listening ears, a discerning spirit, and a spirit of unity over division.
Whether we are tempted to argue about politics or we struggle loving our family members we disagree with, we have work to do if we want to be a compassionate presence in a world in so much need of compassion. While it’s easier to join a side of an international, national, or even parish debate, it’s much harder to take the Christian action by listening and then speaking truth in love, instead.
When was the last time you posted something online in anger? Do you follow people on social media you disagree with? Do you pray for others before arguing with them? How can you bring peace into your corner of the world today?
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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages, genealogy, and good coffee.
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