USA (MNN) — This Thanksgiving in the United States, there may be family members missing from the dinner table due to the divisiveness of this past election season.
There has been hurt and misunderstanding and anger on all sides — Trump supporters, Clinton enthusiasts, hesitant voters from both camps, third-party advocates — nobody has come out unscathed.
Often, it’s easiest to justify our position by pigeon-holing those who disagree with us into the most extreme stereotypes of their circle…. rather than speaking with and listening to them.
How can we do that at the broken dinner table this Thanksgiving?
Ron Hutchcraft of Ron Hutchcraft Ministries says it starts with self-evaluation: “First of all, I’ve got to make a choice. Which is more important? On the scale of eternity, which way is more [pleasing] to God? This relationship with this family member, with this friend, with these people who might even be Facebook friends? Or my political views?
“I don’t think that’s a hard question to answer. I think, without realizing it, we have allowed the scale to get reversed and what we’ve allowed to weigh the most has been strong political passions whereas the relationship is of greater value to God.”
It can help to remember the things you have in common with difficult family members. And the best common denominator you can find is something that’s true of everyone.
“Whatever that neighbor might believe or might be like, they are made in the image of God, they are an image-bearer of their Creator…. We cannot let them become less valuable than some viewpoint we have.”
Hutchcraft says, “Secondly, I think we have to make a choice. Which is more important? My political passions, my political views? Or my representation of Jesus Christ?
“I would hate for somebody to stop listening to me when I share my Jesus because they can’t hear that beyond all of the shouting I have done politically. I don’t want to encumber Jesus with something that is not eternal. It is temporal. I don’t want people to be thinking, ‘I can’t listen to you, I can’t hear you because of the way you’ve treated me in this election season.’”
Ultimately, as Christians, our primary concern should not be, “Am I representing my political party well?” Our primary concern should be, “Am I representing my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ well?”
Hutchcraft encourages, “Realize that as a follower of Christ, my job is to be a thermostat that sets a temperature instead of a thermometer that reflects this temperature of divisiveness and fear and boiling passions. I’ve got to say, ‘I’m supposed to be setting a temperature.’ What is that temperature? It’s spelled out for us in Galatians 5 in what the Bible calls the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, patience, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control.”
If you seek God’s heart and embrace the fruit of the Spirit, you will be better able to represent Christ in your words, your actions, your generosity, and your pursuit of justice and truth for all people.
As we reflect this holiday season, pray that the Lord would convict you in areas where you did not honor God with your words or actions.
Hutchcraft says, “In some cases, it might mean I owe somebody an apology, that I have allowed myself to kind of get caught up in the heat and the frenzy of election passions and I have allowed it to put the beginnings of a wall between me and them. Whether they ever apologize, because they may have started it even, that doesn’t matter. As God’s kid, my job is to say, ‘I’m really sorry for that.’”
Christ-like humility also means being willing to give another person the opportunity to share their heart and fears.
“Ask God to help you hear their heart, not just their words. There are people on both sides who have had real fears of what would happen under whatever political leadership. There are people who have had significant concerns and who have been wounded by harsh words that have been spoken, who it has triggered old fears and old wounds.”
The act of listening to someone we disagree with is more than just sitting there and giving them uninterrupted time to speak. Hutchcraft says it also means entering into their hurt with them.
“You look at…your sensitivity. Remember what the Bible says in Romans 12? ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.’ You enter in, you recognize their feelings. It might not be how you’re feeling, but you respect their feelings, you try to empathize with them. Live in harmony with one another. [There are] lots of wounded people right now.”
Listening to someone’s feelings and empathizing with them is important. Because when someone feels heard, they are more likely to hear you too, and may give you a chance to share the truth and hope you have in Christ.
“I want to recognize this as an opportunity I have,” says Hutchcraft, “because there is a chance now to actually generate and represent contagious hope. In fact, 1 Peter says that’s what is going to draw people to us. ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.’ And you just bring hope with you wherever you go.”
What if you have a family member who does not relent in berating you? Or at the very least, treating you in a way that is hurtful? You can pray for an opportunity to gently confront them, especially if they claim to be a Christian as well (Matthew 18:15-17).
And meanwhile, see it as an opportunity to embrace longsuffering. Afterall, God is slow to anger with us in our offenses against Him. Longsuffering is part of God’s character (Psalm 86:15), and we are called to be like Him.
This is what Bible Study Tools has to say about the root of ‘longsuffering’ in God’s Word:
The words ‘erekh ‘appayim, translated longsuffering, mean literally, “long of nose” (or “breathing”), and, as anger was indicated by rapid, violent breathing through the nostrils, “long of anger,” or “slow to wrath.”…
The word in the New Testament rendered “longsuffering,” makrothumia […] is literally, “long of mind or soul” (regarded as the seat of the emotions), opposed to shortness of mind or soul, irascibility, impatience, intolerance.
Hutchcraft says this type of patience and humility is reflected in our attitude and conversations: “The Bible tells us that our attitude is to be one of humility, it is to be one of gentleness, and you think about what our tone is supposed to be. ‘Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.’ (Colossians 4:6)
“I have received so much grace from Jesus, I need to be extending that grace to people who I disagree with, who may not in my mind even deserve it, who aren’t treating me that way.”
Let us be “long of breath, mind, and soul” this Thanksgiving and embody Christ’s humility as we interact with others.
Valuing True Peace
Ultimately, Hutchcraft says, “Here’s a good goal for Thanksgiving and onward. Matthew 5:9, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’ The Bible actually says, ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ (Ephesians 4:3)”
Peace does not mean agreeing with everybody on everything. Peace does not mean you shove real problems under the food-laden table.
True peace takes hard work, both in yourself and in relationship with others. “We need to be peacemakers, building bridges, tearing down walls, bringing people together, and speaking calm in the midst of this chaos.”
The Perfect Time for Healing
Hutchcraft encourages us to do a few things. First, pray. “It might be time to say, ‘Lord, forgive me for my anger. Forgive me for speaking harshly. Forgive me if I’ve confused any people or obscured Jesus by my tone, by the way I’ve been.’”
Then, keeping with the theme and heart of Thanksgiving, consider writing that difficult family member or friend a letter.
“Write a note to them and just thank them for the things you appreciate about them, the things they are, the things they do. Really think about that letter and let it just be an ‘I appreciate you’ letter and maybe bring some healing into a very broken time.”
What if family members on both sides of the political fence left Thanksgiving this year saying, ‘Wow, I have never felt so heard and loved by someone I disagree with. That’s not their normal response. I wonder what’s different about them?’
By valuing our relationships, our witness for the Lord, Christ’s humility, empathy, longsuffering, and true peace, it could be the start of a great Gospel movement and deep spiritual healing in our nation.
“’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” Zechariah 4:6b