Monday, August 2, 2010

Ripples in a pond - the impact of a single life

I was having a chat with my best friend today, and we started talking about how we often aren't aware of the lives that we touch just by being ourselves and living our lives in faith. How we don't need to stress and strain and grunt and groan to get people to see the light. That's trying to do God's work (convincing and convicting people of sin, growing them up...) and when we try to do God's job for Him, we end up getting the opposite result from the one we intended.

Call me naïve, call me idealistic, but I love to watch the movie Forrest Gump. It reminds me that just BEING, being true to ourselves and believing in God, and keeping a positive attitude, and looking for the best in people, can have a tremendous impact on the people around us.

One of the sub-plots in Forrest Gump is the story of Dan Taylor. This is a guy who thinks he's got it all worked out. His ancestors all died in battle; he figures that's his destiny - to follow in their footsteps. But Forrest puts a monkey wrench in that plan in Viet Nam when he saves Dan's life after a mine explodes and takes his legs off.

He struggles with anger, bitterness, and resentment for years. Through it all Forrest remains his friend, even invites him to work on his boat after the war. And then it happens. The big tropical storm. Dan "has it out" with God. Yells in His face, gets out all that anger and rage - and through that experience, makes peace with Him. I went looking for that scene and found it in the middle of a montage of scenes from Dan Taylor's journey. The music is Bon Jovi's "It's my life." Somehow it suits the theme. Here it is:

I've known a few people like Forrest. In many ways my dad was like him: honest, loyal, generous, loving. "I'm not a smart man," Forrest said. "But I know what love is." That's it. If ever I had any doubts about the impact of one single life, all I would need to do is remember my dad's funeral service in November 1993. The town's population at the time was some 6000 people. I'm pretty sure that a good 500 people filled that tiny church, because there were people lined up outside the main doors, filling most of the foyer and lining up outside the door to pay respects to this man who had no clue that he impacted that many people in his life. But he did.

I've also known a few people like Dan. Some of them never made that peace with God, never dealt with their inner demons. Some of them did. Theirs are the stories of miraculous grace and deliverance from all kinds of horrible things. In a way, my own story mirrors Dan's. I was never in the army, but I was in a war zone: my family. I was in danger all my life, wondering when the next verbal grenade would be thrown, when the next physical blow would fall (and how long that would last), when someone would want something from me that nobody should have to give unwillingly, or when I would step into somebody else's emotional mine field.

As a result, for decades I was an emotional cripple because of things other people did while I was growing up, and every time anyone did anything to me afterward, it just added to the great heap of "stuff people have done to screw up my life." I was bound up in bitterness and resentment, wearing my victim mentality like a badge of honor. I lashed out at the people around me and ended up hurting them, almost irreparably. I was desperate to control something - anything - anyone. I tried every trick in the book to get the people in my life, even after I moved away from home and had a family of my own, to do what I wanted them to do. It always had the opposite effect.

But recently God brought about a storm in my life, one from which there was no escaping. And in that storm, I found Him waiting to take all that baggage from me if I would just give it to Him. Once I started unloading all of that - He started transforming my life, first on the inside and then in ripples coming out from that, touching other people's lives just by me living out that transformation in my own. I've been amazed at His ability to do that.

I still am.


  1. I'm old enough to go back to "It's A Wonderful Life". One life sets up a chain reaction that can change the whole world. Great post!

  2. Love that movie ! Saw it for the first time on Déjà View... about 3 years ago. What can I say - with one major exception (Bambi) my parents didn't allow me to go to movies at the cinema until I was 16 - so the first one I saw was the rock opera "Tommy" - ughh! Thanks for the feedback Brian...