We’ve had better days.
It seems like lately, in both Church and State, the people in charge have failed us — and, in many cases, hurt us — in big, awful, terrible ways. That leaves the rest of us in a bit of a mess.
Where am I supposed to look for guidance when the “adults” can’t seem to get it together? What am I supposed to do, say, or think?
When the structures, leaders, and direction you used to have so much confidence in seem to be crumbling into chaos, it is difficult to find your place in it. It seems like your footing was taken out from under you, and you’re not super sure how to regain your stance — because the blueprint for rebuilding was created by the very people who let it all fall down in the first place.
A natural consequence of these situations is to look around for guidance instead of looking up to the people in charge. We lose hope in the original leadership and begin to turn to ordinary people, just like us, to help us make sense of everything. We have seen this in the mobilization of teens after the horrific school shooting in Parkland, FL — that, in times when leaders fail, the everyday person (even if they’re young) gets an opportunity to step up.
This call to rise to the occasion is not limited to only a few. The invitation is for every single one of us to be light in the darkness, to be an example for others. But before we jump up and say, “I’ll do it!”, here are some things that should happen as we prepare to lead:
Take a step back.
We are oversaturated with information, and it seems even more intense in times of crisis. It becomes increasingly difficult to drown out the many voices informing us of the latest unfolding of events surrounding an issue.
It is important to make sure to take time away from all the news and media outlets and take time for some self-care. Are you keeping up with your daily prayer? Are you eating good, healthy food at regular times? Are you caring for your body through physical activity? Are you taking time to laugh and have fun with family or friends? Are you accomplishing the tasks of the day (homework, chores) that need to get done? Are you getting to bed at a reasonable hour? The balance between staying informed and getting overwhelmed is a tough one to find, but taking a personal inventory of these questions is a good place to begin to make sure you are ready to respond or lead.
The failures of our leaders are seriously disappointing, especially when they are people that we looked up to. Nobody likes finding out about the big mistakes of our role models, civic leaders, teachers, or shepherds. But it also is a teachable moment for us — their failures were not a one-time, accidental result of something they didn’t mean to do. Their mistakes reveal a series of decisions made — possibly for years — which numbed them to their own sin and allowed their actions to snowball into something catastrophic.
Times like these are as good as any to reflect on the places in our own lives where we let sinfulness take root. Though our actions may not compare to the abuses and offenses of our leaders, there are small things — selfishness, pride, envy, laziness, etc. — that we let happen over and over again in our everyday lives. Who is that person that you just can’t be patient with? What habitual sin do you keep confessing on Saturdays? What toxic relationship have you been unable to cut off? Ask Jesus to help you name it and to begin to get it out of your life by going to Confession and seeking reconciliation.
Assemble your tribe
The severe shortcomings and abuses of leaders can leave us in a crisis of trust. Is there anybody in this world we can count on anymore? Is it true you can’t trust anybody but yourself? This kind of thinking is not unfounded, because there are valid reasons to feel betrayed, but it lacks perspective. It fails to see the many good and faithful people who are also rattled by the failures of leaders and feel called to rise up to be part of a change.
In times like these, it becomes ever more critical to stay close to people who are also seeking justice, holiness, and purification. Listen to each other, share hope with one another, and begin to make a dent by answering Christ’s call to be His face in this broken world. If there are people in particular who have inspired you, led you, or been a good example to you — even if they aren’t necessarily in any authority over you — these are good times to let them know! The enemy divides, but Christ calls us together in harmony with Him and each other.
Pave a way forward.
As we look to each other to lead, we must begin by putting one foot in front of the other and responding to the things within our realms of influence. Is there someone you know that is deeply affected by the current state of things? Call them up and invite them to grab ice cream with a few friends. Is your parish hosting nights of prayer for the victims of abuse? Gather five of your friends to fill a pew and pray. Are you feeling powerless to affect change? Organize a letter drive and send letters to your local pastor and/or bishop.
In the same way that our leaders have failed as their many small sins piled up, our many small acts of kindness in Jesus’ name will make a way toward healing and reconciliation. Don’t lose hope in the little ways of holiness — if there ever was a time to be diligent to the ordinary opportunities for choosing love, it is today.