The Common Good

Be a Friend to Yourself and the World

Dear President-elect Obama,

As you prepare to begin your historic presidency, I offer you these simple words from another senator of Illinois in whose footsteps you are walking. Abraham Lincoln said,

I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside of me.

Being a friend to yourself will mean at least four things for you:

First and foremost, it will mean keeping your soul open and connected to God -- through prayer, through worship, through fellowship, through confession of your sins and mistakes, through constant thanksgiving, and through a sustained humble attitude of dependence on God. If you seek God's wisdom, will, and guidance first, you will lead with the same serenity and strength that have brought you this far.

Second, it will mean keeping your family life strong and healthy. Obviously, doing so will set a needed example for all fathers and families in our nation, but it will also be a gift to yourself, because you will only be president for four or eight years, but you will be husband to Michelle and father to Malia and Sasha forever. Pray with them. Have them pray for you. And laugh and play and cry with them too.

Third, it will mean having some "non-utilitarian" friends -- soul-friends, if you will. You need a few wise and trusted people who don't want or need anything from you, with whom you can be free and open, watch a ball game on TV, who can pray for you, listen to you, and tell you what they believe you need to hear not just as a president, but as a human being and child of God. Protecting that space for honest soul-friendship is one of the greatest things you can do as a friend to yourself.

Fourth, it will mean having space and time to breathe -- to take a walk, to shoot some hoops, to share a few jokes, to unwind, to do things you enjoy. Some presidents have found that space at Camp David or at another private place, but wherever it is, I believe even a few minutes of solitude each day will be important for you as you seek to balance insight and perspective in challenging times.

What an adventure you are on. What a gift you have been given. May you enjoy the journey and when it comes to an end, may you have millions -- no, billions -- who consider you their friend because of the good you have done for them while in office. And may you find, deep inside you, a friend to yourself as well, a part of you that receives and celebrates the love of God, the ultimate unfailing friend to all. God will be with you always.

With prayers and hope, and in a spirit of friendship,
Brian McLaren

Brian McLarenBrian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) is a speaker and author, most recently of Everything Must Change and Finding Our Way Again.

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