For the past several years, I have been working with kids and youth in many different settings, in many different places. Cities, small towns, places in the South, out West. I've met so many kids that it would seem like they would all start to blend together after awhile. But really it's just the opposite. In every place that I have served, there have been those one or two kids that I will always remember. They are the kids who pushed my buttons, made me go outside my comfort zone, pushed my boundaries, and made me learn about myself. They are the kids that let me love them and be their friend.
But, with the fun side of the relationship that includes crazy games, playing, laughing, competing, and turning a jump rope for hours, comes a harder side of the dynamic. With these relationships comes the fact that I have an influence on these kids. And that scares me.
As Peter Parker's Uncle Ben would tell us," With great power comes great responsibility."
Honestly, I don't see myself as an influence most of the time. Because whenever I think of influences, I think of those people who have influenced me. The people in my life who have inspired me, encouraged me, prayed for me, and have just done life with me.
Let me tell you something, that list isn't very long. I could probably count them on one hand. And the idea that I could be that for someone else, blows my mind.
It puts more pressure on myself whenever I'm around kids or people my age because eyes are watching me. They are waiting to see what I'm going to do, how I'm going to act in a situation, and what my words are going to be. And let me tell you something about myself. I'm stubborn, love to argue, selfish, and can get angry pretty quickly if I'm not careful. Not exactly what I want people to see and be influenced by. However, my patience level has risen greatly over the years and I can make myself stop and just walk away faster than I used to. Know that saying, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all?" Well, let's just say that I have learned that the hard way sometimes.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying these are the only qualities that I have. My closest friends and the people who speak truth into my life have molded me and taught me many things over the years. They have opened my eyes to the good and have pushed me towards living and serving in greater ways. They have encouraged and loved me in Christ.
Having that kind of influence on another person, whether someone your own age or younger, is a big deal! Wherever we are in our sphere of influence we are being molded and shaped by the people around us and we are doing the same for them. Whether we let our influence be good, or bad, the impact is going to be huge and it's our decision of which influence we are going to give.
There are times when we don't even realize we are being an influence. This is either the most helpful thing or the most dangerous. When we don't remember that people are watching, our true colors will show and who we really are is going to be seen. This doesn't mean that we have to be "fake" all the time, to act like we are perfect. Which we know is not true of anyone. But, remembering that people are watching us should help us to remember that our actions are important and they mean something. How we use our time, the words we speak, and the actions we show to others can have an incredible impact, for the better, on those who are watching us.
When I think about who I was around the kids (and who I am around my friends) I can't help but think about how my character was. Did I do everything right? No, of course not. Did I take responsibility for my mistakes? How did I handle myself during confrontation? Did I stand up for my beliefs and what I know is right? There are certain things I know I could have done differently. But, because those things are in the past, I cannot dwell on them. I have to focus on the future and the path that is laid out in front of me. I can use those past mistakes as reminders for the future and use them for the positive.
With the past behind me, I look ahead into the future. I look around me, here, in the present to see how I'm currently influencing those around me. For those kids and friends I already know, I think of how I can keep giving them my best now . And how my best now, can be my absolute greatest for those I am going to meet.
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