The Ripple Effect: Teaching by Example

by | Apr 27, 2020 | Parenting, Spiritual Growth

Have you ever sat on the edge of a perfectly still lake? No wind. No boats. No kids splashing about. We know what it looks like if we take just one small rock and drop it into that calm still water, right? It’s what’s known as the ripple effect.  What we can’t know for certain is just how far reaching the effects of that one rock thrown in can be.  

So it is with life. Our actions and words have a great effect on those around us. Like that rock, we just never know how far the effects will carry or just how great the ramifications will be.

Does our smile cheer someone and thus transfer into how they treat others they meet today? Or do our harsh words do the exact opposite: drag someone down, causing resentment aimed at others?

It can be daunting to consider just how far reaching our actions or words can be when we focus on the negative, and it can be downright exhilarating when we think about the positive aspects.

One of My Ripples: Youth at Risk

I volunteer in my community with youth in need. The youth I see come from a variety of situations, but their common theme is they’re in a difficult place right now.  They may:

  • have been kicked out of their home
  • aged out of the foster system
  • be trying to escape a rough family life
  • be trying to build a new, more positive life on their own
  • struggling to find work, pay rent, or even eat.

Whatever their situation, the common denominator is that they need help right where they are, today.

My Motivation

I embrace two basic principles from the Bible as I volunteer in this position. First, we are told to help the vulnerable. Remember the words of Jesus. He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Second, we are commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 19:19.

What I didn’t anticipate was how joining the work to aid our community youth would affect other areas of my life — nearly everyone I cross paths with in my day. By simply showing up, the resulting ripple effect is huge.

Sure, these vulnerable youth are affected positively in terms of support and help.

Yes, I’m affected positively because the Bible (as always) is right when it says it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).

But the positive ripples are so much further reaching than that.

The first ripple I’ve observed is the influence on those closest to me, my kids. They watch me give my time, our money, and other resources. As a result, they have learned to give. The thing that hits closest to home for them is that they learn to give up some of their mama for a few hours each week.

There’s So Much More

I’m able to come home after a night of meeting with youth and tell my boys stories of the struggles I hear, the needs of these kids. We realize what we take for granted, that which some kids simply don’t have. I share with them that most of the youth I meet are sleeping without sheets on their mattress — IF they have a mattress at all. I can tell them that bath towels are a luxury. 

My boys hear that food is a once a week event, and other kids get what’s handed to them by the Food Bank. We learn about kids who have been living independently since they were 14, and that their parents really don’t care.

Consequently, they learn that having to wash a bowl before pouring their cereal because someone forgot to turn on the dishwasher last night is not worth complaining about. Because we have a bowl. And cereal. And a spoon.

After Jesus commanded that we love our neighbour as ourselves, He was challenged with the question, “Who is our neighbour?” He told a story which included both greed and compassion (Luke 10:29-37). At the end of His story He challenged His audience by asking which person in the story proved to be a neighbour and the answer came back, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus’ response to this was, “You go and do likewise.”

This challenge is for all of us.

Are we showing mercy? In our personal lives, but also in our communities? Our cities? Our world? Let’s teach our children, by example, what mercy and justice look like and how to follow Jesus’ words of, “Go and do likewise.”

The ripple effect.

Like that rock in the water, we will never know how great the ripple effect. But what we do know is that we’ll be following what Jesus told us to do — love our neighbours — and we’ll leave the results up to Him.