A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.
This quote is commonly found on teacher appreciation cards and signs, but no matter how many times I read it, the words both terrify and exhilarate me.
Every day you change the world. Your smile brightens someone’s day. Your frown makes someone react negatively toward others. Your behavior has an impact. Christians might say, "God is working," in an attempt to alleviate them from responsibility for their behavior, but we are to be kind to one another, forgiving, loving, patient, and so on. Does this always match up with your actions? Don't think back to a time when you are placidly sitting in church. No, look back to a day when you are running late and the cashier messed up your order. Or you were stuck in traffic behind someone who is a REALLY bad driver. Or someone spills something on you. Did you react in a way that reflected the fruit of the Spirit? Did you influence someone to do the right thing? This doesn't mean you let people push you over and treat you poorly. I have lodged complaints with restaurant owners or managers. I've also called back and given positive reports when I see improvement. Living your life as though you are an island then talking about God working is very hypocritical.
I've talked to several people who work in restaurants who complain that some of their worst customers are the Sunday after church crowd. This group is notorious for being impatient, needy, messy, and leaving poor tips. Sometimes after leaving a huge mess and little to no tip, they leave a gospel tract. Really?!? What about their behavior influenced the server to want what they had? I don't doubt the staff was influenced, but it wasn't in a way that pointed them to Christ.
One time I went out with a prickly person and they lamented, “People are just not nice anymore. Everyone is mean and grumpy.” As we checked out of the store they continued to talk to me rather than the salesperson helping them. They grimaced and complained when the store’s computer was slow, then took their bag without so much as a, “thank you,” to the clerk. Really? Um . . . people are usually nice to me because I’m nice to them. I ask them how their day was or compliment their name. Our conversations are rarely deep and most often that is the last time I will see that person. My hope is that I could bring some sunshine to their day and that the love of God would shine through me.
This is why being intentional about our influence is so important. Yes, God is working, but we have a chance to be part of His plan. In Esther, Mordicai tells Esther that God will save the Jews, but perhaps she was placed on the throne, "for such a time as this." If Esther hadn't been Queen, God would have saved the Jews. Esther wasn't their savior, but because she was willing to serve she was allowed the joy of being part of the bigger redemption story. Yes, God will work, and his mission will go forth, but to be part of that mission . . . oh, joy eternal.
What will your impact on the world be? Since my earliest days teaching I have loved the story of the starfish. It has been adapted from, The Star Thrower by Lorne Eiseley, but this is the version I first read as an exhausted, overworked, and underpaid preschool teacher with 10 kids that no one else wanted to be around. Every time I think of it I am deeply moved.
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
There are so many kids out there that I would like to reach. I want to tell them all the things. I want to love them as God loves me. I want them to hear the gospel. But I am only one. I am weak, broken, and unable to do it all. Not all my former students remember me fondly, but some do. When I see a student years later and they tell me that I influenced their life, I usually tear up, praise God, and say, “It made a difference to that one.”
Who will you influence? You don’t have to run for president or even be super outgoing to influence others. Smile. Say thank you. Make eye contact. Use your life to send a message about who God is. Be friendly and kind. Use your social media as a beacon of light instead of a void of hopelessness or frivolity. We tend to over complicate things. Maybe we just need to embrace this simple truth: "Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6:31 NIV) You never know how someone's life will be effected, but don't ever doubt that you will influence others.
Being a super nerd, I look for answers in books. A great book to spark a discussion about how others should be treated is Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller. It's silly and thought provoking at the same time which is a wonderful combination.
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."