Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Making a Difference

After my morning class ended, two students lingered and engaged me in a non-academic conversation. One of the young ladies recounted how her day had vastly improved. While at the gas station, a man noticed her parking tag and asked if she was a student at the college. She replied that she was enrolled in school and was preparing to transfer. The conversation went through the normal topics of major and future plans. Finally, the gentleman asked my student how much gas she had put in her tank. After hearing her response, he reached for his wallet, gave her the money to cover her expense (and added a few extra dollars for good measure), and encouraged her to "keep up the good work."

Occurrences like this one are not completely out of the ordinary. However, this was one of the first times that I had heard the story recounted by someone outside of a church setting. What struck me was how touched this young African-American woman was by the kindness of a stranger. Sure, the financial gift was appreciated, but I got the impression that the stranger's genuine interest in her pursuit of success was what made the most lasting impression.

Since hearing my student's story, I have been asking myself if I am making that kind of impact on people that I encounter daily. I believe that I am having a positive influence on those who encounter me in my work settings at the college and the church - but that is expected. What about the cashier at Wal-Mart or my waiter at Red Robin? Does my interaction with these random individuals impact their lives for good? Is such influence realistic or expected?

I try to be extremely kind to those who hold positions that I consider to be difficult. An extra smile for the tired bus boy and an authentic (albeit short) conversation with the cashier is my attempt to brighten what might otherwise be a lousy workday. But does it really make a difference? Do I cross paths with other human beings for the purpose of speaking words of life and encouragement to them?

As a Christian, I believe that such encounters do occur and that they are not merely the result of coincidence; rather, I believe that they are divinely appointed opportunities for sharing love with hurting people. While I believe that intellectually, I must admit that my actions often don't express that belief. Sadly, I allow my shyness and fear that the person might reject my kindness to stop me from going out of my way to interact with the stranger to whom I am drawn. I'm not necessarily talking about anything monumental here. Money doesn't have to change hands; many people are so lonely that just a compassionate interaction with another individual will change their day for the better.

Perhaps my aversion to these situations is a result of the number of times that I have been asked for help by panhandlers, the homeless, and others who I think could improve their situation through hard work. While I would like to justify my actions--or should I say my LACK of action--with this argument, I fear that the truth is that I have forgotten how much has been given to me and have taken my blessings for granted.

I can't say that I am going to start interacting with strangers daily, nor do I think that is a wise action. But I can firmly state that I want my time with people to count for something. The next time I feel impressed to speak to someone, I want to put aside my fear and step out in courage. I will probably never know if I have made an impact on a stranger's life. I can determine, however, that I will intentionally live my life in order to position myself to make a difference in the lives of those I daily meet. How about you? Will you join me in an effort to make our corner of the world a better place through your random acts of kindness?

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