Although this election season has me in a state of near-violent apathy given the uninspiring nature of our choices in candidates, I have been noticing lots of typical election year rhetoric popping up here and there. One of the typical bits of such is the often-repeated question, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"
Depending on one's party, one is supposed to answer with a resounding yes or an unqualified no. Either way, though, the question is generally understood to have a primarily economic meaning--that is, am I earning more money, able to afford more stuff, and otherwise financially better off than I was four years ago, or not?
I want to make it clear that I understand that for many people this is a wholly legitimate question--if you've lost your job and/or your house in the last four years, or your business has gone belly-up, or you are underemployed because part-time or minimum wage work is all you can find, or if you are drowning in college debt with no employment in sight, then this question is certainly going to hit home.
But I wonder how many of us Christians ever ask ourselves this question in a more radical and Christ-following way? Here are some of the things I asked myself:
--Is my relationship with God better now than it was four years ago?
--Is my prayer life better now than it was four years ago?
--Are my relationships with my family, extended family, friends and community better off now than they were four years ago?
--Is my involvement with my parish family better now than it was four years ago?
--Am I practicing the Corporal Works of Mercy better now than I did four years ago?
--Am I practicing the Spiritual Works of Mercy better now than I did four years ago?
--Am I fulfilling the obligations of my state in life better now than four years ago? Am I a better wife and mother than I was four years ago?
--Am I rejecting sin and evil better now than four years ago?
--Am I, in general, taking my life as a Christian more seriously than I did four years ago, and accepting the crosses it pleases God to send me better than I did four years ago?
I wish I could tell you that I was able to answer all of those questions in the affirmative, but I wasn't. Clearly I have a lot of work yet to do.
But it's not the kind of work you can do by putting signs in your yard and bumper stickers on your car. It's not the kind or work you can do by assuming that lining up for one candidate or the other is the summit of Christian life, the most important work of discipleship. It's not the kind of work you can do by focusing your laser-like vision on the ocular specks of the unworthy crowd.
It's the kind of work that takes real interior conversion, a radical desire to hand over ever hour and minute and second of the precious "now" to our Lord for His purposes, and a willingness at all costs to see the world as being full of neighbors, other selves, and beloved others, instead of a knee-jerk reaction that sees the ones who disagree with us politically as bitter enemies unworthy of salvation (let alone civility).
And four years from now, I hope I can still remember that--and every four years after that.