1 : to affect or alter by indirect or intangible means
2 : to have an effect on the condition or development of
Who and what do you let influence your thinking, your life, your actions? Do you take time to stop and evaluate which aspects of your life are altered by an influence you might not choose? I'm asking these questions not just of you, but of myself.
I've been thinking about this partly in relation to my children. What influences exist in their lives? Are they positive or negative? Which influences do I fear most for my children? We live in an urban neighborhood, but I don't fear many of the influences they encounter here. A friend of my has talked about the influence of poverty versus the influence of affluence. I fear the latter much more for my children. I think it's unlikely they will face the harsh realities of poverty in their lifetime. But affluence? That they might encounter and I do fear it for them - and for me.
I think affluence is a huge stumbling block to any sort of true faith. It's hard to believe you need God when you can provide not only for your needs, but every want, every whim. I think many people in our country clutch two identical idols in their hands - the idol of wealth and the idol of success. I don't want this for my children. I'm not saying I hope they live paycheck to paycheck and know what it's like to truly be hungry. I am saying I want them to know there are people in those circumstances all around them - children who might look just like them, but don't go home to a healthy snack, don't have a hearty dinner to look forward to and love school days because they are sure to get breakfast and lunch.
Affluence influences all of us. It's pushed at us every day through countless commercials, billboards, web ads and more. When I really stop to think about what our culture tells our children - want more, earn more, buy more - it scares me. Our very economy is built on consumption. I've quizzed my husband on this and tried to get a better grasp on why it's so very necessary for us always to be buying more as a country. I was able to understand a bit, but, frankly, stopped asking questions because it was too disheartening. The system is simply too big to be stopped and I'm doubtful it will be significantly altered in my lifetime. So what can I do when faced with a world that tells my children one thing and a fierce desire to teach them something else as truth?
Yesterday's sermon was on saints. The image that has stuck with me the most was one that our priest shared of a child who described saints as "the ones the light shine through" (referencing the stained glass windows). After the sermon, I spent a bit of time alone in prayer pondering a verse that started "The Lord is my light." Much to my own surprise, I realized I have a certain degree of fear of light. I don't like to think about light shining on me. I can remember walking into my childhood home and walking all the way through the house to my bedroom without ever turning on a light. I felt safe that way. But light shining on me? That gives me an image of being singled out and noticed - two things I don't much enjoy. This truth really hit home this morning when I got up at my normal time to run and it was full daylight instead of the time just before sunrise. It was a terrible run. I felt so exposed, so insecure, almost nervous. I didn't like it at all. I'd much rather run in the dark.
"What does this have to do with influence?" you might ask. That's a valid question. The connection for me is that I shy away from being an influence. I don't want the light on me. I don't want to be seen. I'd rather listen to you than talk to you because what if I say something that you don't want to hear? I can't (and don't) take that approach with my children, but I think God is trying to talk to me about my willingness to trust him to bring a light that's not harsh and glaring like a fluorescent light at the grocery store, but gentle and forgiving like candlelight.
One encouraging thing to me about these intertwined ideas of light and influence is that light is something seen, not heard. Maybe where I live, how I live and who I love does more to help me live like a stained glass window than anything I could ever say.