What Can I Do?

There are times in life when words can’t fix things.

We were all stunned, last week, when a young man walked into an elementary school, and shot 19 little children and 2 of their teachers. Almost at once, people were inclined to say things like “You are in my thoughts and prayers” to people whose lives had been shattered and whose lives will never be the same. Politicians quickly aligned themselves in the Capitol Building and we heard the same rhetoric that we’ve been listening to for decades. We are divided. We can’t seem to agree about a path forward. Many of us probably feel powerless and unable to do anything in the face of continuing tragedy. We might even be asking each other, “What can we do?” or, more personally, be asking ourselves, “What can I do?”

Jesus once prayed for His followers in words that are now called the “High Priestly Prayer” which is found in the seventeen chapter of John’s Gospel. Jesus is praying for the Church. Jesus is praying that God will make us one with each other. Jesus realized that those who follow Him have an opportunity to change the world and make it into a better place.

And, with that in mind, if you’re asking yourself, “What can I do?” here are some ideas that spring from the “High Priestly Prayer” and that can help us to be “one”:

America is the way that it is right now because of the way that we act. We honk the horn on our automobiles or scream at other drivers who don’t burn rubber through intersections and get out of our way when stoplights turn green. We are tired and stressed, right now, partly because of the pandemic, and that is clearly visible in the ways that we act. We are all on edge. We drive and act aggressively. We argue about things on social media that just don’t matter. If you’re asking yourself, “What can I do?” perhaps it’s time to slow down; to think more intentionally about the ways you are interacting with others; and, in times of conflict, to ask yourself, “Is what I am doing helping the situation, or is what I am doing ratcheting the conflict up to a higher level?”

America is the way that it is right now because of the ways that we talk to each other. We type words on social media platforms that we would never say to people face-to-face. We label people with words that pigeonhole all of us into enemy camps that are filled with people who cannot have a reasonable discussion. We, sometimes, even say things that we know are going to cut other people like a knife. If you’re asking yourself, “What can I do?” perhaps it’s time to stop for a moment and think about the words that you use. And, it’s not just about the words. Think about the context. Think about how you think others are going to hear what you say. Think about the setting. Are you trying to address a difficult issue when you are in a public setting where the person you are speaking with will be embarrassed? Studies have shown that discussing difficult issues while eating a meal can be absolutely disastrous. If you’re asking yourself, “What can I do?” watch the way that you are talking to other people.

America is, also, the way that it is right now because of the specific words that we use. We have, sadly, become more accepting of name-calling and abusive language. St. James once said that our words have the power to start a raging and consuming fire. If you’re asking yourself, “What can I do?” perhaps it’s time to think more about the words you use. Do your words build other people up, or do they tear others down? Do your words uplift, or belittle? How often do you swear? If you’re asking yourself, “What can I do?” perhaps you could select your words more carefully and stop setting fires?

American is, lastly, the way that it is right now because people have forgotten about the 8th Commandment. Martin Luther once said that the 8th Commandment is one that calls us to interpret the actions of other people in the best possible way. Most people are trying to do the best that they can. Most people do not live their lives intentionally trying to hurt people and do things that are wrong. If you’re asking yourself, “What can I do?” perhaps you could embrace a more charitable attitude toward other people. It’s easy to misinterpret the actions of other people – particularly when you are stressed and impatient. It’s easy to find yourself bearing false witness in times of conflict and disagreement. If you’re asking yourself, “What can I do?” perhaps you could look for the best in other people and interpret their actions in a more charitable way?

There are times when words can’t fix things; however, there ARE things that you can be doing during these unusual times to make our world a better place. We may not be able to control the behavior of other people, but we can control the ways that we act and interact with others. And, even though you may not be able to fix everything that’s happening in America, right now, we can all ask ourselves, “If it’s not going to be me, who is it going to be?”

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