None of us make very good losers. Perhaps it's because we live in a culture of individualism and entitlement, where marketing repeatedly tries to convince us you can 'have it your way', 'because you're worth it'. Perhaps it's because we also live in an age of passionate debate, where it's natural that we throw a lot of ourselves into any cause we join. Either way, when we actually find ourselves in the position of having definitively lost an argument, we're often not quite sure what to do, how to think, or how to pray.
I write this in the aftermath of the UK's landmark decision to leave the European Union. I voted – with considerable conviction – to Remain, and so I find myself in exactly this territory. I'm disappointed with the result, angry at the behaviour of the opposition; frustrated by the economic and political unravelling that's now taking place because of the decision. I am unsatisfied by calls to unify and make the best of things; I'm naturally resistant to the idea of accepting the decision and moving on, because fundamentally I still think it's a terrible decision. Yet there isn't an answer; despite all the petitions and conspiracy theories about how the decision could yet be flipped, I and the other 'Remainers' need to come to terms with the fact that we lost the argument.
So I want to pray. I want to recognise that the belief I held before the referendum that we are citizens of a bigger and greater kingdom, still holds. Yet, without stumbling into slightly unrighteous prayers about a supernatural reversal of the result, I'm slightly stumped. Because I'm still disappointed, angry, and frustrated. I don't feel like I'm in a particularly holy place right now.
And so it is that I find myself crawling back to the simplest form of faith I know, and the first prayer I ever learned. In Matthew 6, 9-13, Jesus spells out how we should pray; actually giving us a form of words to do so which have become the most oft-repeated in history. He sets no context around it, simply that this is how, quietly and on our own, we should approach God. And of course, wonderfully, painfully, it turns out to be a perfect fit for the situation I find myself in.
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name... First, Jesus draws us to remember that God is holy, heavenly, Lord over all things. In a political argument, it's not hard to find ourselves trapped in small thinking, where the world exists in some sort of Godless vacuum. The truth though, is that while God is not controlling our movements here on earth, He is ultimately in authority over everything. He's the King; no political campaign, no war, no change in the global economy can ever shake or unseat Him. Maybe sometimes we lose sight of that; think that somehow if we don't personally advance His Kingdom, He'll be rendered powerless. We should pray this simple line to remind ourselves that's simply not the case.
Your Kingdom come, your will be done... God is building His Kingdom; it is always advancing regardless of how we might feel; "Aslan is on the move" as CS Lewis had it. These words are a motivator not to seek victory for the political movements we might be a part of, but to desire that ultimately things happen God's way: that the world becomes more kind, more just, more equal, more compassionate. When I come to think about that, I realise that this prayer is not dependent on which leader gets elected, or which decision gets made. Whatever democracies decide, we should always pray that God's Kingdom of love and justice advances as a result.
Give us today our daily bread... Inevitably when we start praying for God's Kingdom to advance, we naturally turn our attentions to those who have least; those who might be most threatened by a big political decision. Often elections have major implications for the poor, and God demands that we maintain a focus on those who have least in our society. So we should pray that after the decision is implemented, those who have least will still have enough; and as Pope Francis put it with his already overused line on how prayer works ("you pray for the hungry, then you feed them"), that will also have practical implications for those of us who have more than enough.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us... By this point in the prayer, my own sense of unrighteousness is starting to burn quite painfully. I know there are ways that I have thought, spoken and written about 'the other side' which don't match up to the expectations I have for myself, or that Jesus has for me. At the same time, I recognise that the opposition have exhibited similarly poor behaviour which has made me feel particularly hardened and even angry toward them. So, Jesus says, confess your own shortcomings, and forgive the failings of others. When there's a major, nationwide debate like an election or referendum, where so many words are said in anger and in the attempt to win a point or a vote, the emotional aftermath can be quite uncomfortable. If we're going to somehow get on with the people with whom we so seriously disagreed, these acts of confession and forgiveness are vital.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Finally, having confessed our sins, Jesus urges us not to replace them with new ones. It's ok to still be angry, frustrated and disappointed – those are often the drivers for the most positive social and political change. It's not ok however, to slip into some of the other natural results of those feelings: slandering one another, endlessly criticising, and perhaps most importantly of all, disengaging. All of these things seem incredibly tempting when you've lost an argument into which you've poured heart and soul, yet that way does not lead us to Jesus. Instead, we should ask God for his help in resisting those urges, and somehow finding the strength to channel our frustrations positively; to go again.
I write this in a specific context, but the prayer of Jesus is timeless, and applies in every situation. Come November, somewhere around half of Americans will find themselves in the same place that 48 per cent of the UK is right now, and my hunch is that his words will be just as helpful then. When we've been conditioned to get our own way, we're naturally short of coping mechanisms when suddenly we don't get it. In situations like this, I think it turns out that old prayer is exactly what we need.