While contacting a friend recently, I was quite open with her and offered some encouragement, sharing how heroically I thought she had coped with a difficult situation. Sometimes it can feel like a bit of a risk speaking so honestly with people. We don’t know what their reactions will be, and openness can change a relationship in subtle ways. But I was moved to see her response. In a strange way her gratitude and her own touching honesty made me a little sad. Sad, thinking that I could have encouraged her much earlier, or that I could have said things to others that would have made such a difference. It sounds obvious, but it reminded me that our actions affect the people around us; our choices to do certain things or not to do them, to say certain things or not to say them, make a difference. When we stop to think that we can lift people up or crush them by our words it can be overwhelming, but we don’t always stop – we can muddle through life and not see how we are influencing the people around us.
What if we could see the rest of a person’s day after our meeting with them, and the knock-on effect? Would my impatient words to someone at the station in the morning have made him feel bad about himself, put off something important that needed to be done, and end up with him shouting at his family in the evening? Would a few encouraging words to a friend in despair have been enough to keep her on the right path when she was about to give up, or to prevent her from hurting those around her? Certainly we all have free will, and cannot always blame others for difficulties in our lives, but the point is this – that we have a tremendous opportunity to influence others for good, through our seemingly-small actions as well as through grand gestures. If we are to show Christ’s love to others, it starts with these everyday meetings – whether we forgive someone who’s made a thoughtless remark, whether we listen with love to a relative who’s struggling, whether we smile at the lady in the supermarket.
If we saw a video of the following few hours in the lives of the people we met today – how different would things be for them if we had been more kind, more loving, more truthful, or just a little bit more gentle? How amazing it would be to see a video of people the day after they first met Christ – Mary Magdalene the day after, the centurion the day after, the man healed of paralysis the day after. The day-to-day things might have been much the same, friends needing to be visited, the soldiers still needing to be kept in order, chores needing to be done. Yet inside something is different for them: they have been treated with dignity, gently challenged, looked on with great love by Christ, and absolutely nothing is the same as the day before. This is what we must try to be for others. Christ’s love is a transforming love, and if we show out his love with truth and compassion we can lift others up, perhaps even stop them from going over the edge, with God’s grace. What a privilege, and what a responsibility.