As a high school English teacher, I’m only too aware that people are always “learning” what we teach them. Sometimes those lessons are intentional. Sometimes, they aren’t. But it’s just human nature to pick up certain ideas and habits based on what we see from those around us. We say, “That’s a great idea. I will do that too” or “Yes, that sounds exactly like me! That’s who I am as well.” Without even realizing it, we are leading and being led all the time. This week, I had an experience that made me really think about my influence and that of those around me. Are we leading people closer to the things of God, or further away? Are we helping them, or causing them to stumble? Because one day, we will all give an account to God for it.
A Project With Examples
Recently, my teaching team assigned a symbolism project to our high school seniors. Kids had to decorate a graduation cap to represent themselves using colors, pictures, and a quote and then explain. As any good teacher, I provided examples. I created one graduation cap based on a piece of literature we read and one about myself. I have never hidden who I am, so mine featured a large cross and a line from the song “Live What I Believe” by Russ Lee about standing up for what’s right.
As expected, I got several projects turned in that also included crosses, although some talked about other faiths including Hinduism, Buddhism, and New Age. I also had quite a few students say something about standing up for what they believe. See, even at 18, kids are still very impressionable. They see things, and they think to themselves, “I believe that too.” I understand my influence, and I pray fervently just about daily for God to help me create “word handles,” or reference points, for Him to grab later in my students’ minds.
A Very Different Example, Indeed
Even though I’m clear about my influence for good, this time something happened to really make me think about the other side of that coin. A student, I will call her Arianna, turned in her project on another teacher’s template. When I asked her about it, she told me that she knew she had to work on the weekend, so she wanted to get her project done before that. Since all the senior teachers do basically the same lessons, she got a copy of her friend’s template who had the other teacher’s class the day before. This teacher included an example cap for Harry Potter and her own personal example. Where I had a cross and an explanation of my faith, she had an LGBTQ flag and words of support for that movement. Arianna was working from this example instead of mine.
Now, from other projects and comments this year, I know Arianna is a Christian. She has spoken of it a few times this year, and when I saw her project, I noticed the cross first thing. I then saw that she had also chosen a rising sun, and my heart sank at the idea that she picked up on the rainbow theme. Matthew 18:6 came to mind. “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” Later, I went back and looked again and saw that it was a sunrise for new beginnings after graduation. I was relieved, for both her and my fellow teacher.
Remember Whose You Are and Whom You Serve
In Acts 27:23, Paul mentions God as the One “to whom I belong and whom I serve, “ and that’s a sign I keep posted in my classroom right where I can see it. It’s a reminder that I’m not my own and that everything I say and do should be for God’s glory. Those students, teachers, administrators, and even parents that I interact with on the job have a potential for my influence. How am I using it? Am I actively leading people toward God? Am I truly aware of the danger of the reverse?
There is an old saying that goes, “You may be the only Bible some will ever read.” As Christians, people are watching us specifically to see if our words and actions line up with what we say we believe. They will be inspired by testimonies of God’s goodness in our lives. But they will also find excuses when they see us do things that don’t line up with God’s ways. (“Well, she’s a Christian, and I saw her/heard her do that, so it’s fine.)
Think About Your Influence
Even those who of us who don’t deal with children in any capacity have a sphere of influence. We lead conversations with our neighbors, those at the doctor’s office, the grocery store, and at work. Are we open with our faith, giving others the “permission” to also speak about God? Are we careful to protect our Christian witness, making sure not to cause those around us to stumble? It’s a sobering thought and one that I will definitely be praying more about from now on.
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