Votes and Prayers

I voted today, on the first day of early voting in Texas. Now, don’t worry; I’m not going to tell you in this post how I think you should vote. (I literally am not allowed to endorse candidates for any office because of my job.) I’m also not going to tell you how not to vote. Instead, I’m going to tell a little story. Actually, I’m going to preach a little sermon to myself. And I’m asking you to read it, so you can preach it back to me when I need it.

I knew how I wanted to vote in each race—I’m a nerd and do way too much research on these things—and, to be honest, I just wanted to get it over with. But I have never felt sadder casting a ballot than I did today. And to my surprise, for the first time in my life, I felt physically ill simply looking at the ballot, thanks to the tone, the hypocrisy, and the outright hatred that has characterized so much of this year’s election cycle.

I think we can all agree that this year’s election has been grueling, and it hasn’t shown us at our collective best. As a result, my votes required a lot of soul-searching and prayer over the last few months, and not only in the presidential race. In fact, I said a number of little prayers waiting in line, while standing in the voting booth, and afterward:

  • I prayed for whomever will be our next President, as that person will inherit an unimaginable number of difficult decisions, a fractured population with little confidence in our most important institutions, and a nation struggling to decide what its place in the world is and ought to be.
  • I prayed for all of the other officials at all levels who will be responsible for leading, governing, judging, and administrating pieces of our society in the years ahead.
  • I prayed for wisdom for myself, as I made decisions that, in some cases, I found painful.
  • I prayed for my fellow voters as they did the same.
  • I prayed for all those people who feel neglected and even persecuted by government or by society as a whole, and I prayed for a government and society that, all too often, really do act unfairly.
  • I prayed for those who have seen their fundamental liberties threatened or ridiculed.
  • I prayed for those behind the threats and the ridicule.
  • I prayed for the unborn children threatened by a culture that all too often values autonomy more than infancy, liberty for self more than life for others, and Mammon more than God.
  • I prayed for a people trusting in government more than each other, in appointees more than elected officials, and in the rule of men more than the rule of law.
  • I prayed for a nation at war with its own soul, in which yesterday’s moral indignation gives way to today’s political expediencies.
  • And I prayed for the wisdom and knowledge of God to overflow on all of the above—on our nation, its leaders, its voters, its adults, and its children.

And with all of that, it came down to a final act. In Harris County, at least, we don’t pull levers anymore. Instead, we face a sterile list of names on a screen and a big, red, angry-looking button that reads, “CAST BALLOT.” I took one last look at the screen, fought down the butterflies in my stomach one more time, and pressed the button. And it was done.

I voted for my preferred candidates in some races, for acceptable candidates in others. I cast no votes at all in more than one race in which no candidate deserves the office; I was not given the option of writing in a name in some races, thanks to the way Texas does these things.

So why am I telling you all of this? Because, as gut-wrenching as all of that was, our nation really needs you to go put yourself through it, too. We need—all of us—to restore hope and confidence in our democracy. And we need—all of us—to show that hope and that faith by exercising the incredible privilege of voting.

But you know what I think we need most? We need to wrestle with our own souls and with God, and we need to come to terms with what we’re doing when we stand there, fingers poised over that red, angry button. We need to lift our eyes from the ballot for a moment, turn to our Creator, and ask,

Is this really right?

Is my vote loving? Is it fair? Am I voting for a society where people love their neighbors, or for one where we seek to deport them? Where we love children, or dismember them in a manner worthy of a medieval dungeon? Where we lift each other up, or where we seek to put boots on each other’s necks and shackles on each other’s wrists? Where we celebrate each other’s triumphs, or envy each other’s prosperity?

Am I following the admonition of Jeremiah to “[S]eek the welfare of the city where [the Lord has] sent [me] into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare [I] will find [my] welfare?” (Jer. 29:7 ESV)

Or am I saying that my city, my brother, or my sister is less important than my economic well-being? My sense of safety? My happiness? My “independence?”

When I walk out of here, will I see people created in the image of a loving God? Will I see myself reflected in the eyes of the hurting and struggling people I pass? Or will I see “allies” and “opponents” in a fight for the scraps of our broken world?

This is how I thought and prayed about our election over these last few months. It’s the sermon I’m preaching to myself, and it’s the sermon I need you, dear reader, to preach it to me whenever I’m not being loving and forgiving in my thinking. In fact, it’s a sermon I needed someone to preach to me not thirty seconds after I cast my ballot, when I felt unreasonable annoyance at a fellow pedestrian—someone just like me, trying to find their way—over a minor inconvenience.

Please go vote. Vote for a better, more loving, more uplifting America. And then let’s hold each other accountable to love a little more and treat each other with a little more dignity, next time around.