Watching the Democratic Presidential Debates reminds me of my past as the “life” of the political party.
For the first part of my adult life, party politics was everything for me. At the time, it felt exciting. But to be honest, it actually really sucked. A lot.
Yes, I identified as a follower of Jesus. Yes, I was part of a family. Yes, I had friends and a job and hobbies. And while I would have said all those things were more important to me than politics, you wouldn’t have been able to tell. Poll results had the power to ruin my day. Arguments were an expected occurrence. And if you were on the other side of the aisle, you were less-than-human. Dangerous. Sinister. Brené Brown would not have been impressed with my empathy back then.
Ten years ago, I watched every political debate like my life depended on it—not to challenge my way of thinking, not to learn more about the candidates and their positions, and certainly not to consider who to place my vote behind. I watched to judge and condemn. The rhetoric and emotion of my party led me to devalue anyone aligned with the other. I overlooked the obvious fact that my political opponents were humans with real emotions, struggles, and stories. I definitely didn’t consider them children of God, known and loved by a creator who doesn’t define his world by red and blue states.
At that point in my life, I had purposefully surrounded myself with individuals who affirmed my way of thinking. It made me comfortable, kept me from having to re-evaluate myself, and allowed me to live a life void of challenging conversations. And I struggled because of it.
Trying to live a life with your identity wrapped up in the actions of other humans is exhausting—and a recipe for utter failure. It’s full of disappointment and pain. And it’s a finish line that you never, ever cross. Putting my identity in politics was a losing game. No matter if my party won or lost, the rollercoaster never stopped.
Exhausted, I finally reached a breaking point. Desperate for some guidance in my life, I willingly walked into a church for the first time in years. I saw people of every color, background, and political leaning. And they loved each other. It shook me to the core, and intrigued me enough that I kept coming back. Eventually, I joined a small group of those individuals—a smattering of people all over the board politically. A year earlier, I would have openly condemned these people. And yet, they kept loving me. And I kept coming back.
It sounds like pie in the sky, right? It was not. Joining that group and remaining there, week after week, was incredibly tough. There were loads of uncomfortable moments, awkward conversations, and soul-searching. But despite our differences, our relationships continued growing deeper. We challenged each other’s perspectives and opinions, and we listened when the other disagreed. We learned through shared experiences and I began to understand that, when it comes to people, there is so much more than meets the eye.
Having friendships with people who were radically different than me challenged every aspect of my life—and it made me a better person. Heck, it made me a kinder, happier person as well.
It also taught me that true hope isn’t found in politicians or the government. The people behind those podiums and slogans—they’re just people. They have bad days too. They lose their phones, are short with their kids, and make mistakes. And as humans, they can’t always deliver on their promises. They are to be loved and valued and respected. But they were never meant to be our source of hope—that alone should go to the God who keeps every promise; who never makes mistakes; who calls us his children and parents us with grace. Hope is found in a God who forgives and loves us in spite of our faults, even the political ones.
I believe God rescued me from the death grip party politics had on my life. And he did it through relationships. I’m in a much healthier place now—healthy enough to watch the debates with a steady pulse and normal blood pressure. I can listen to the ideas being presented, weigh them for their merits, and then go about my night. When your trust and hope is in God, and not the fleeting wins and losses of politics, it’s amazing how well you sleep.
There is brokenness, pain, and injustice in the world that must be addressed. My life began to change when I stopped looking for the answers to come from the men and women behind those podiums. Instead, I’ve gotten swept up in the movement of a God who has called me out of my misplaced identity, put me into cross-cultural relationships, and led me to a community that is willing to get its hands dirty to change the world.
It’s a story much larger, and more meaningful, than any political party could offer.