By Joe LaGuardia
You never know who is watching you and what kind of impact you may have on people.
I learned this the hard way when I was a rookie youth pastor in college. I, ever the introvert, got to know the kids in my youth group, planned events, and taught Bible studies.
When I left church at the end of the day, however, I thought that my “job” as a youth pastor was over. I’d go out to eat with my wife or catch a movie. I was not cognizant of those around me, and I thought that no one was paying attention.
Every now and then I’d hear an adult at the church tell me that his or her child saw me out and about. I was not doing anything immoral, but the children, whether I liked it or not, were watching me. I had to start paying more attention and set an example.
The apostle Paul was always mindful of the influence he had on others. As a rabbi, he was a professional mentor and teacher. There was never a time he wasn’t teaching. And he, like other rabbis at the time, were commissioned to be a public, moral witness for the entire community.
This ethic carried well into his conversion to Christianity. In his letter to the churches in Galatia, Paul wrote that all Christians–preachers or not–must set an example for the rest of the world: “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right…Whenever you have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all” (Galatians 6:9, 10).
I recently read a letter that a gentleman wrote to his good friend’s wife before she passed away from cancer. The gentleman, whom I will call Blake, wrote that Kelly (also not her real name) made a positive, lasting impact on her husband. In fact, over the years, she had changed her husband for the better.
The letter encouraged Kelly. It brought comfort. It also affirmed Kelly’s hard work in helping her husband become a more compassionate, caring individual.
“You are a model for us all of the courage that comes from love and respect expressed in a godly way between two people,” Blake wrote.
“I am grateful for our friendship and for your [ability to] unlock real joy and real love from my friend’s heart.”
When Kelly’s husband, now my good friend, shared this letter with me, it became clear just how much Kelly influenced his faith and life. She did not “grow weary,” but made it her mission to support him and others whom she knew and loved.
He told me, “Joe, Kelly never forced her values or beliefs on anyone. She never imposed her opinions. She only lived how she believed Christ wanted her to live. She was my angel.”
That resonated deep with me. You see, no matter how you live, where you live, or what you do for a living, you can choose to be either a positive or a negative influence on others. Christians, especially, are called to be compassionate, meek, and kind.
We are all called to create a positive atmosphere in which others can grow and flourish.
Consider being an influence by practicing what Paul called the “fruits of the spirit,” found also in Galatians (5:22-23): “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
If we are eager to do “what is right” and to “work for the good of all” like Kelly did for her husband, then we too may make a lasting difference in people who need to unlock “real joy and real love” in their lives.