So I am totally stealing this line of thought from other people but I am pretty sure they won’t mind –it is one of the bonuses of being surrounded by wise people on a daily basis.
Back in February I received a work email which was all about the traces we leave in people’s lives and the fact that “every contact leaves a trace”. It was encouraging us to think about what traces we leave in the lives of those we meet, bad and good. The email ended asking us to pray that God would help us leave traces of grace, traces of hope, traces of life, and traces of Jesus. That email spoke right to my heart, I loved what it was saying and it challenged me so much that it has stayed with me pretty strongly ever since.
Then in the last few days I have heard Psalm 91 read on two separate occasions.
“He who lives in the safe place of the Most High will be in the shadow of the All-powerful. I will say to the Lord “You are my safe and strong place, my God in whom I trust.”” Psalm 91 vs. 1 & 2
On the first occasion I listened as the person reading it gave his take on it and talked about how so often we cast shadows over people and people cast them over us but actually the only safe shadow to be under, the only shadow that matters, was the shadow of the almighty God. I loved that and again it reminded me of the email and the traces we leave in people’s lives. The idea that actually I have the power to leave shadows over people by my words and my actions or lack of them and that people have that same power over me, if I let them, which let’s be honest most of us do because we are human and we want affirmation, encouragement and acceptance.
It also reminded me of a vicar who used to say a lot that often we will never know during our lifetimes the impact we have had on people’s lives, for the good and the bad!
These ideas totally feed into my heart; they bring me alive and excite me. I think probably because I love people – I have a long list of favourite people (with a few firmly rooted in the top spots) – I love being with people, I love meeting new people, I love talking to people, I love doing life with people. When people talk about what your dreams and passions are I struggle to think beyond people and relationships.
I love the power and the challenge there is in the ideas of the traces and the shadows and how it feeds into every one of our relationships, whether they be the closest ones or passing.
I am sure we can all think of lots of people that have left positive traces, big and small, in our lives. There are the obvious ones – spouses, parents, siblings, children, family, friends, colleagues – I am so thankful that I have been blessed with all those relationships and that all of those people have invested so much into my journey. As much as I love those obvious impacts I love the smaller, more random interactions with strangers in shops, with waitresses or randoms on the street – I love the feeling I am left with when I have a conversation with someone I don’t know or when someone gives me a big smile, how it can make your day so much brighter. I have become much braver at saying things to strangers, at telling them they look good, or that their child is gorgeous or encouraging them if they look like they are struggling.
I have noticed that runners are generally very good at this – for the most part I am usually struggling to breath, a deep red colour and in no place to want to smile and engage but without fail I will pass a number of other runners who will give me a big smile and say hello. On Saturday morning I went out for a run and I passed a particularly perky runner who gave me the biggest smile, said hi and even gave me a wave – part of me wanted to laugh at her perkiness, in contrast to the fact I had just pulled myself out of bed, was no doubt looking pretty rough and was definitely not wanting to engage with any other human let alone a stranger but actually that little wave made me smile and made my heart smile and buoyed me up for the rest of my run.
I am also a big believer in telling people where they have impacted my life, where they have helped me or encouraged me or made me feel loved and special because I think it then becomes a two way thing – it gives them that encouragement and love right back. I think we need to get so much better at doing it. I remember after John died a friend saying if only we could have thanksgiving services for people whilst they are alive – now I am not sure I would go that far but I remember thinking, and again when my Dad died, I wonder what they would think if they could see all the people who had turned out to remember them, or hear all the stories and read the letters with people’s memories of them and the impact they had had on so many people’s lives.
One such letter will stay with me for the rest of my life – my Dad ran his own business and was incredibly committed to his clients. He loved work and he loved helping people through that work. After he died mum received a letter from one of his clients, who we had never heard of, telling a story of how on one occasion he had gone to Dad’s office to take some papers. His sibling had recently died and he was feeling pretty fragile and vulnerable, and had broken down in tears. Dad had taken him into his office, shut the door and let him cry and talk – this man was just saying how much that kindness had meant to him. Dad probably didn’t give much thought to it but that man had remembered the time and kindness Dad had shown him many years down the line.
So whilst I am not necessarily advocating thanksgiving services for the living I am most definitely an advocate of telling people that we love them and what we love about them, for thanking them for what they have done for us and who they are to us.
I love that our lives are so interwoven with the lives of those around us, that our stories are all so interlinked but with that brings a real responsibility and challenge. As much as I can remember so many of the positives of the words spoken over me or the amazing ways people have impacted me by their actions I also know so many of the negatives, of the shadows, both big and small. I remember the negative words about my character, the people who told me I could have grieved better or the criticisms of something I had worked hard over and the people who made it clear they didn’t want to talk to me or be my friend. Those shadows that make you doubt yourself and who you are and whether you are good enough. I also know I will have cast many of those shadows over others – some knowingly others without even realising. Some will be because I get angry or I have moments of pain, anxiety or insecurity and I speak out of those places of my hurt, others will be because I am tired, hungry or not thinking properly and others will be from a place of selfishness and laziness. I am truly sorry if you are reading this and I have ever cast a shadow over you.
I want to be so much better at leaving those traces that give hope and life, that speak of love, that tell people they are loved and accepted, that inspire and encourage, that leave people feeling better about themselves – that is one of my constant prayers that God changes me so I am better at that. I guess the shadows are a part of life but I want to cause them in other people’s lives less and less and when others cast them over my life I want to rest in the knowledge that the only shadow that I need to be in is that of my heavenly father and that that shadow brings with it healing, safety and love.