You Might Be Making a Difference Without Even Realizing It
A lesson I’ve learned over the last couple of weeks is that sometimes you might be making a difference without even realizing it. I shouldn’t be surprised by this. I pray for this all of time. I even claim this as a positive confession from time to time. In fact, I have some daily positive affirmations that I have saved in the notes in my phone. One of them says, “People see Jesus in me. I win people over by the way I live without saying a word.” One of my heart’s desires is making a difference in the lives of the people I encounter. Sometimes though, I just don’t even know I’m doing it!
Dare I say the worst semester ever?
OK, I’ll try to make a very long story short here. This past semester of teaching was…well…horrendous to put it lightly. I mean, it was bad. So bad that I came very, very close to turning in my resignation. The college class that I teach had undergone a complete overhaul and the outcome was an exponential increase in my workload and a decrease in pay…and nearly a complete loss of autonomy, and a severe increase in stress, and tremendous loss of time with my family, and loss of joy in teaching, and… OK I’ll stop there.
This workload (and everything else) also increased significantly for the students as well. It actually felt like our class and new changes were hurting the students instead of helping them. Grades were significantly down compared to previous semesters, and more students were failing than ever before. This is what weighed on me the most because I truly believe in making a difference in a positive way in the lives of my students, and this class typically allows for that. However, that was not the case this semester. Or so I thought.
Making a difference? Yeah right! How about: A lost cause
Because the amount of students I typically teach almost doubled this semester, I was not able to build and form relationships with each student like I usually do. I was also not able to spend as much time outside of work in prayer for each individual student like I usually do. There were just too many of them, and I already felt like I was frantically flailing with one nostril above water just to keep up with my normal workload and responsibilities both in school and out.
I still prayed for students that came to mind on my drive to and from school. I still tried my best to develop rapport with students when I could. My best effort came forth in trying to remain true to myself and stay “me” in what seemed to be a very micromanaged environment due to the new changes. Nevertheless, it all felt like a lost cause. Additionally, I felt like I lost myself and my ability of making a difference this semester.
They like me, they really like me!
Then, a very surprising thing happened. We finished our last week of class with record attendance. I didn’t see this coming at all. Quite frankly, I anticipated a lot of absences because there was no incentive (points-wise) for the students to actually come to class the last week. The new class format eliminated our final exam, and our last week was pretty light. Typically, this was the type of week when most college students skip class.
Not only did they come to class, more lively and alert than usual mind you, a large number of them stayed after classes were dismissed to hang out and chat with me. For a long time! I had to gently boot a few of them out because my next classes were starting. It was like they just wanted to stay and hang out with me because they knew it was the last time they’d see me. A few of them even brought me thank you gifts (unheard of in college!). Several students stayed after to tell me how much they would miss me and miss the class. A handful of my male students even came up and shook my hand to tell me thank you. What?! I thought they all HATED the class…and ME!
Truly it felt like maybe I was in the Twilight Zone. Were they not in the same class that I was?! Had I made a difference after all?
An encounter with an old friend
Then last week, I bumped into an old friend from high school while I was out shopping. I was holding up a shirt trying to decide if I wanted to try it on when I felt a man in the aisle staring at me. I tried to avoid eye contact at first. (Do you do that too or is it just me? 🙂 ) However, I could feel the stare intensifying so I decided to turn around to see what this creep wanted.
When I turned around I recognized his face. “Is that really you?” he asked. “Cody!” I exclaimed as I hugged his neck. We proceeded to stand there catching up for a while. He was one of my high school boyfriend’s best friends, and he briefly dated my sister so we reminisced about some funny old memories. I reminded him of the time when I wrecked his Volkswagen Beetle (and I wasn’t even driving!). He mentioned how he always thinks of me at Christmas when he hears “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” because I would always flick him in the nose on the next part…“Jack Frost nipping at your nose”.
Still talk about you guys…
“I still talk about you guys all the time!” he said. “Why?” I asked slightly confused. I mean, it had been well over 20 years since we’d all been friends, and we hadn’t kept in touch. Plus, I’m not on Facebook, and I’m not very good at keeping in touch with people from the past. It was so long ago that we were good friends. It wasn’t like we were still friends. Why would he still be talking about us?
He then said that our friendship meant the world to him. Apparently he was going through a really rough time and transition in his life when he moved to our high school. His parents had gone through a divorce. He had to leave all of his friends and move to a completely new town, and he was trying to fit in at a new school. We just befriended him and took him in as one of our own, as if he’d been our friend for the previous 16 years. He told me that we helped him through. “I didn’t even know that.” I told him. We never really talked about that kind of stuff so I had no idea that we were even making a difference in his life.
I had made a difference in his life over 20 years ago (not even trying), and he was still talking about it!
You never know
That made two times in two weeks where I discovered that I had been making a difference in someone’s life without even realizing it. I had absolutely no clue the type of impact I was making at the time. I didn’t feel like I was making a difference at all! I was just being myself. But in being myself, I was letting Jesus’ light and love shine through me without even knowing it.
“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)
We might never fully know the impact we have on those around us. By simply being ourselves and loving on others as Jesus would, we might be making a difference that could potentially be life-changing to people in our spheres of influence. You might be a light in the darkness.
We should definitely speak out about Jesus and our faith. However, our lives should be a testimony and a message too. They should speak for themselves without us ever having to open our mouths or say a word. We should be able to win people over without having to tell them or preach at them about how they are right or wrong. We should love people where they’re at because God does the same with us.
Take Some Practical Steps to Realize You Might Be Making a Difference:
- Stop and think about the people you encounter everyday on a regular basis.
Your actions day in and day out are speaking to them. If you are operating in the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control), you are already a living example of Jesus to these people whether you ever speak about Jesus or not. Living by example is making a difference!
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)
- Because people are always watching you, be careful of how you live.
Your example can be a good one…or a bad one. Again, you could be making a difference—for good or bad–and not even know it. Be mindful and purposeful with your actions when possible.
“Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise.” Ephesians 5:5 (NIV)
“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” Hebrews 10:24 (NLT)
The more you live for Jesus, learn about Jesus, and get to know Jesus on a personal level, the more natural it will become to behave like Jesus.
You won’t even have to try. It will begin to just come effortlessly by being yourself. Do you notice the more you hang around people, the more they start to rub off on you, and you start to act like them? The same thing happens with Jesus. Hang out with Jesus more, and you will naturally just start making a difference in the lives of people around you and not even realize it at the time.
“Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.” Proverbs 13:20 (NLT)
- Don’t get disheartened when it feels like you aren’t doing enough.
That’s how I felt this semester when I wanted to do more but couldn’t. You might feel like this when you want to go on a missions trip but can’t, or you might want to be able to give generously financially but aren’t able to right now. Sometimes it might even be discouraging when you want to get through to people, but it feels like it isn’t working. Stop and recognize that maybe it really is working, and you just don’t see it. Maybe more is going on beneath the surface than you realize. You might be doing more than you think you are, and God is always doing more than you think He is too. Believe that you are making a difference, even when you don’t see it right away.
“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7 (ESV)
Do you have some examples of making a difference without even realizing it? Share them with us by leaving a comment below!
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