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Moving on after election day

An expert in conflict transformation offers tips to help us reconnect on a morning when many feel divided.

United Methodist Communications

November 9, 2016 has finally arrived. The votes have been counted and the United States has a new president-elect.

The Rev. W. Craig Gilliam helps us find ways to reconnect after times of conflict. ~photo courtesy of the Rev. W. Craig Gilliam.

After more than a year of campaigning, it’s over. Or is it?

To help us move forward, we asked a United Methodist pastor, the Rev. W. Craig Gilliam, for techniques and tips about how to begin a process of healing and find peace. Gilliam is an expert on conflict transformation in the church. He serves as Coordinator of Congregational Services for JustPeace, Director for the Center for Pastoral Excellence for the Louisiana Annual Conference, and is the author of Where Wild Things Grow, a book of poetry that “invites us to grapple with the relationships between and among people and things.”
The divisiveness of the campaign has made many uneasy, or what some counselors call anxious.
“We are living in an extremely anxious culture,” Gilliam reports.

When we are anxious, we tend to rely on emotional reactions rather than reasoned responses. You probably saw this in your social media feed.

In our anxiety, Gilliam reports, “We do each other harm in ways we didn’t even know we had the capacity to do, or in ways we’re not even aware we’re doing it.”

One unhealthy way we cope with our anxiety is to retreat to safe places by finding people with whom we agree and limiting our connection to others. We unfriend people on Facebook, limit our phone calls with that one uncle, and avoid certain people at church.

Living in these “safe spaces,” however, allows us to fool ourselves.

“When I cut off from another,” Gilliam notes, “I begin to create narratives about them.” Those stories often include what we believe about ourselves and God.

The false narrative usually goes something like this: They are bad. We are good. God is on our side.

This, of course, is not true. The Bible tells us that all of us are created in God’s image, are loved by God, and have God’s grace available to us.

Now that the election is over, we need to reconnect. Where we once moved away, we must now move toward.

“If I’m interacting with that other, if I’m sitting down looking at them eye-to-eye, if I’m listening to their stories,” Gilliam says, “that very interaction helps make space for the alternative narratives and for the correction in the narrative I’m telling myself about the other.”

Our diverse United Methodist churches provide wonderful opportunities for connection. Worship, Sunday School, choir, committee meetings, and the sacrament of Holy Communion bring us into contact with one another, and reinforce the true narrative that we are all children of God.

Serve somebody

Participating in selfless acts of service is another great way to reconnect with others. Volunteering with your church or a local non-profit, “takes you out of yourself. It really puts you in a context of giving to others with no reward, just to do it because it’s the kind, Christian thing to do,” Gilliam reports. “I think that’s very healing.”

Limit television and news input

Limiting your exposure to the media is another way of resisting false narratives and anxiety. Those outlets can be “like a hose that is pumping anxiety into our homes,” Gilliam says.

Now is a great time to audit your news consumption. While we want to remain informed, we might consider limiting alerts on our smartphones and computers, and how much time we spend watching our favorite news channel.

Remember, God is in control

During the election cycle, it is easy to attribute too much of our hope on the outcome. The President of the United States holds a great deal of power, but God is ultimately in control. Going to church, reading the Bible, and spending time in other activities that re-center us are helpful. Go for a hike. Attend a concert. Get lost in a good book. “Find those rhythms that bring you back to your better self,” Gilliam advises.

Hit the gym

When stress and anxiety are high, many of us turn to junk food. Others stop exercising. Return to eating well. Join an exercise class. “Go to the doctor to get help starting a new lifestyle,” Gilliam suggests.

God created us as complete beings. Body, mind, and spirit are all connected.

Spend time with friends

Gilliam says, “Be with those friends that when you’re around them you’re just a better person.” Spend good, quality time with people you love.

Listen for the invitation

If you continue to struggle, consider asking yourself, “What is the invitation here? How is God calling me to grow?”

Spend some time discerning what God may be trying to show you through this season, what you might do differently in the future, and ways you might get involved to make a difference.

Take your time

“Reconciliation is a journey. It is not a one-time act,” Gilliam cautions. Our pace will differ from others. We cannot force it.

“There’s nothing worse than rushing something that’s not ripe yet,” he continues, “and not heeding when the time is right.”

Sometimes, we may need to accept that a relationship will never be reconciled. One of the more difficult tasks is to “honor their choice not to forgive,” Gilliam says, “and not allow it to embitter us.”

Stay in love with God

Finally, Gilliam reminds us of Bishop Rueben Job’s summary of John Wesley’s General Rules: “Do no harm, do good, stay in love with God.” When we do that, we can overcome the conflict and grow from the experience.