Amanda always tells me to trust the ripples. With this simple phrase, she daily reminds me not to underestimate the impact of our words and actions on the world around us. It may take the course of a lifetime to see the effect we have had, for better or for worse, in the lives of others. I am aiming for better. But the reality is I may never know the impact of one simple action or word on my children’s children. This reality is heightened by an ever-shrinking world. I could write a blog post on a lazy Saturday. You could compose a Facebook status, release a YouTube video or write a song and release it on Bandcamp or Spotify. And we might never know how the positive outgrowth or negative ramifications of these seemingly mundane actions on someone 5 or 5,000 miles away.
Sometimes this simple concept causes me some despair. What if my children pick up more of my negative self-talk than they do all of my efforts to encourage them to be the best versions of themselves that they can be? What if they pass this on to my grand children and great grandchildren long after my ashes have been scattered? Sometimes this concept fills me with hope. What if my pleading with my son ad nauseum for hours to do his 20 minute writing assignment contributes to him not giving up on his dreams later in life? What if the satisfaction he feels when he is done becomes part of his muscle memory that later helps him finish that college midterm paper? What if a poem I share on a Thursday night emboldens someone else to write their own story? What if they share that story over a cup of coffee or in a song and it touches a friend or a stranger wrestling with suicidal thoughts and encourages them to stay?
This is the same mix of despair and wonderment I have when I get out to Lake Michigan or the few chances I’ve had to stare at or swim in the ocean. I feel my finitude and my significance all at once. I am but a minuscule drop in an infinite ocean of time and space. I am a conscious being that is 60% water staring out or plunging headlong into a relatively small section of water, on a planet that’s surface is 71% water. On the other hand, I am part of something so much bigger than me. I may not get to decide the significance of my contribution. Our children, family, friends, fans, enemies, time, and unfairly written history they play a large part in that. But I do get to decide daily what my contribution will be.
I get to decide if I will sit and wallow with the words of my mother: often bleak, self doubting, skeptical of others, fearful of god and people. Or if I will follow her shining example of getting up each day and striving to make the world a better place, despite the fact that she was abused as a child, struggled with severe depression and often felt neglected by my dad. She still raised three kick ass children, taught Sunday School, ran a home day care, cleaned houses for poor and mentally ill people in our church that other congregants too often ignored. She was a rock star. She was an afflicted rock star and I picked up some of her negative traits, more than I would wish. But she also taught me to persevere and love vigorously. I want to pick that up. I want to leave the rest on the floor and run with that.
I don’t want to get into an extended reflection on the significance of water in the Bible. But this is part of series inspired by Lenten practices. I’ll try to make it brief. And hopefully it ties together for you. Nearly all ancient near eastern creation myths relied heavily on beliefs about water. To the ancient mind, the water was once full of great monsters and God or the gods brought some semblance of peace and balance to the chaos that once ruled the earth. It makes sense, when people took to the water for their livelihood to exchange goods or catch fish, the water was full of great peril: beasts of the water, storms and great waves. This mindset is the backdrop for “the Spirit of God hovering over the surface of the deep” in Genesis. Walking on water, calming storms on the raging sea, or calling Peter to walk on the water are some of the most significant ways the first generation of Christians assigned divine status to Jesus. So it makes sense that later writers like John and Paul (and subsequent generations of Christians) put Jesus present at the very creation of the world.
The world is in chaos around me: a babbling buffoon as POTUS, peaceful protests turning violent, school bullies seem omnipresent, xenophobia appears to be around every corner. And in the midst of it, I still need to meet deadlines and hit sales quotas to maintain gainful employment, raise two children and hope they grow to be able to love themselves and others well, and find meaningful ways to use the one voice that I have to make the world a better place.
I want to be calm. I need to be centered. I don’t want to sleep my way through life. But I do want to be at peace and as confident as Jesus when his disciples woke him to say, ‘We’re all going to drown.’ I want to refuse to give into the panic as the storm rages. I want to visit Lake Michigan again soon to remind myself of how small and significant my life is all at once. I want to cast a single stone into the water and watch the ripple effect to remind myself of the interconnectedness of us all. I need to remember, maybe you need to remember that what we say and do today can have a potentially enormous and far reaching impact even if we might only ever see the smallest of the ripples.