I’m reading a series on happiness offered by Amazon. It’s written by a former boss of mine from another lifetime ago. Maura Sweeney releases each chapter as a stand-alone piece and challenges her readers with thought-provoking, self-reflective questions on each topic.
The piece I just finished was “Influence.” As Maura discussed the important influences in her life, I thought how influential she was in my own. She ignored my lack of a college degree that was recommended for the sales position she hired me for because she saw my potential, not only as a salesperson, but also a woman of God. Our relationship blossomed from sales manager/employee to mentor/mentee in the few short years I worked for her.
She always told the truth even when it was hard to hear.
When I shared with her a personal, moral decision I faced, fortunately for me, she braved discomfort and didn’t tell me what I wanted to her, but what the Holy Spirit needed me to hear: Do not go and spend the weekend with an ex-boyfriend who was enticing me to fly to New Orleans. It had taken me almost four years to break away from this particularly toxic relationship, and I wasn’t successful until I put 500 miles between us by moving to Tampa, leaving him in Pennsylvania. But I was lonely, and Jimmy had now moved to New Orleans. He was offering fun and romance, at least for a weekend.
Maura used her influence in a life-giving way as we pedaled frantically on our stationary bikes at the work out facility in our office building. She said, “Kristine, do you think our Heavenly Father desires a weekend fling for you, especially after the volatile history you’ve had with this young man?”
Then she passed on her favorite Bible verse that has influenced me for decades:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path” (Proverbs 3:5). Although only a few years older than me, she was light years ahead in wisdom.
Maura’s story on Influence and my experience with this influential woman forced me to ask how I have influenced those in my small world – mostly my husband and children, but also friends, professional relationships, and casual acquaintances. Many interactions have been positive and some have been quite negative. I vacillate between being a beacon pointing the way to God’s love and grace, and then, not only hiding my light under a bushel basket, but allowing my dark side to negatively affect the people around me.
If my sporadic irritability and intolerance were the only Bible someone happened to read on a given day, knowing I was a believer and follower of Christ, they would have slammed the door to faith indefinitely. Thanks, but no thanks.
I cannot do anything about my past mistakes, but in Christ I can put on a new self. Not making excuses for the past, but learning from it, forgiving myself, and moving forward to positively influence those in my small universe – a universe that is getting increasingly smaller as our modes of communication shrink the physical distances that separate us.
But what about our spiritual and emotional distances? In the 21st century, we have myriad ways for communication and intimacy, but many of us communicate less effectively and have trouble creating meaningful intimacy. We must wake up to the effects of our choices – the words we choose to say or not say; the negative emotions we willingly share or the positive ones we withhold; the life-building influence we wield or the tearing down of another’s spirit just because we couldn’t or wouldn’t control our tongue.
I will choose to be a positive influence in breaking down the protective barriers that others may have built because of my hurtful words or actions. It’s all I can do.
This is all any of us can do. Learn, Forgive, Influence.
Have you ever negatively influenced another either intentionally or unintentionally? Compare these to the times you have been a positive beacon in someone’s life. Share your stories of influence here – good and bad – so others can learn from them.
And then, if you haven’t already, either forgive yourself and vow to do better, or congratulate yourself knowing that the people you positively influence will, most certainly, go on to positively influence others.