Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Night Musings

It's Tuesday night, and all anyone seems to want to talk about is the election. TV shows have been bumped so networks can show election coverage. Statisticians like Nate Silver hone their mathematical models to try and predict the outcome. Various web sites show fancy data visualizations of state-by-state polls and electoral vote breakdowns. Co-workers wonder if they're going to be able to sleep tonight. All of this is in an effort to find out, as soon as humanly possible, who will be the president in 2013.

There is, of course, a much simpler way of finding out who will be the president in 2013: turn off the TV and computer, read a book or play a board game, go to bed, and check the news the next morning. This is, of course, very hard to do for anyone who cares one whit about American politics; I'm resisting the urge myself to go check web sites.

Why do we feel like we need the hour-by-hour, state-by-state breakdown? Why do we care so much about something we can't affect? Why can't we choose the simpler, faster, less stressful alternative of simply waiting?

We hate not knowing what's going to happen.

We hate uncertainty. We hate the unknown.

We hate not being in control, and knowing what's going to happen – knowing, in some small way, the future – lets us feel like we're in control.

Lack of control is really at the heart of worry. I don't worry about the things that I can control; I simply handle them. Even if it's something bad, as long as I have control, I can deal with it. It's often less stressful to deal with the certainty of something bad, as long as it's a situation where I have some control, than to deal with the possibility of something bad, about which all I can do is worry.

We expend enormous effort trying to control the world around us, trying to know what's going on, even to the point of distorting our view of the world just to believe that it's controllable. All of this is in an effort to establish some security in our lives, but tragedies both national and personal show us how fragile security is.

As a Christian, I've come to believe that this need for control is something that we need to outgrow. The Bible makes it very, very clear that God is in control and that God knows the future and that that's good enough. The Bible and my everyday life make it very, very clear that I'm not in control. Yet I continue to expend mental energy worrying about matters such as national politics, climate change, the culture wars – things over which I have almost no influence – when I could instead devote that energy to those areas where God has clearly called me – growing in my walk with him, developing my relationships with family and co-workers, making the best use of the gifts he has given me.

So I'm doing my best to tune out the election news today. I've already done everything that's in my control – I've read about the candidates, I've prayed, I've cast my vote. Now, instead, I'll try practicing the discipline of focusing on what's around me, where I can make a difference, instead of worrying about where I can't.