In case you hadn’t noticed, the year 2009 ended leaving a lot of us a bit uneasy. And many aren’t anticipating a reversal of trends — especially negative ones — for 2010.
The economic crisis in the nation and the world continues despite some indications that it is showing some improvement. But talk of genuine recovery remains premature.
Businesses both massive and tiny continue to fail or to experience downsizing, another way of saying that people are losing their jobs and families are feeling the pinch.
Churches and other non-profits that typically reach out to hungry and impoverished people are naturally affected by joblessness and their ability to give at previous levels. Fewer resources are available to help the poor. Food pantries have trouble keeping their shelves stocked.
Then there is the matter of healthcare and how to fill the gaps for people with limited access to the care they need, in part because they lack health insurance. The matter seems to have become much more of a political issue than a social concern. Leaders seem incapable of setting aside partisan politics to do what is best for all in the country.
Wars on various fronts in the Middle East and the threat of terrorist attacks show few signs of ending. Effective self-government in places like Iraq and Afghanistan does not appear to be imminent. Civilians and soldiers on every side find themselves in harm’s way. Domestic and indiscriminate violence are escalating.
What a way to end 2009. And what a way to start the second decade of the 2000s. What is the average believer to do to help effect positive change on such wide scales?
For some, the answer is to get mad — about everything. Frustration and pent-up anger explodes in loud, angry, condemning verbiage. Much of talk media — whether on the radio, television or the Internet — thrives on and fuels discontent. In some quarters, civility is rapidly becoming an endangered human quality.
Here are a few thoughts intended to be constructive:
Use your influence to affect positive change. Become better informed about legislative issues and communicate with senators and representatives. To remain silent and then complain about a legislative outcome is irresponsible.
Live responsibly. Many families have been forced to revisit their priorities, including personal and charitable spending. These and others have taken a harder look at living within their means. They assume personal responsibility for their own affairs.
None of us can control the attitudes and actions of others but we can influence others in a positive way. People are easy to provoke. A well-chosen word, even an inflection or a facial expression will do the trick. It is a form of manipulation, and a lot of people like the power it gives them over others.
Interestingly, a well-chosen word, inflection or expression also can lift up or inspire a person. This doesn’t come as naturally as its opposite, but the payoff is in the ability to empower others. Parents notice a predictable result when they provoke their children. A more pleasing result is produced by empowerment. It’s true of adults, too.
Take steps that demonstrate your own integrity and protect your reputation. My parents, especially my father, often used the old line, “Don’t forget who you are,” at strategic times in my life, usually when the potential for temptation was ripe. The message was simple: “We’ve worked hard to develop a good reputation. It is your heritage. Don’t mess it up.” Those words usually worked on me.
Believers would do well to start each year — each day — with a focus on living worthy of the family name of Christian. Those who seem so natural in their expression of their faith know it takes diligence, commitment and will to function faithfully. They live with the continual echo of God’s voice in our ears: “Don’t forget whose you are.”
There is little to be lost and much to be gained in cutting others some slack. Plan to see the worst in someone else and that is what you will see. Judge the motives of others continually and you will discover pettiness and perhaps loneliness. You will hurt people, reveal your own unhappiness and repel others. You will sacrifice some potentially wonderful relationships. Giving others the benefit of the doubt is a sign of respect that refreshes your sphere of influence and your friendships.
Intentionally perform a random act of kindness at least once a week. That may not in itself cure all of society’s woes, but it will do something for you. You may unwittingly become a miracle worker with the timeliness and substance of each simple act of focusing beyond yourself. I have observed that kindness expressed to others moves beyond being a series of random acts to a Christ-like lifestyle. And it is contagious.
Surely that makes God smile.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.