Our family sat around a big table at a local restaurant eating one more holiday meal together before my brother-in-law Rich and sister-in-law Mary and their kids headed home to Oregon from Dallas the next day. They were discussing their travel plans when Mary asked if they’d be home in time to go to work at their company. Rich said they’d be home too late for him to go in and “start a reaction.” Rich is a chemist, and their company is a lab, so this statement made sense. But I said, “how cool is it to say I’m going to work to start a reaction.”
In the days that followed, that phrase “start a reaction” played over and over in my head. Whether we intend to start a reaction, the bottom line is we will cause some sort of change wherever we go. When we enter any space – at work, school, or home – we will make things different than they were the moment before we came in. And the people around us will react to the way in which we behave, the words we say, or our inaction or silence. My kids probably react most quickly when I go quiet – they immediately ask, “what’s wrong, Mom?”
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroscientist who had a stroke that left her unable to talk or communicate for a period of time in the hospital. She could only sense the positive or negative energy of the people who came into her room. After her recovery, she wrote a book “My Stroke of Insight” and appeared on the Oprah show, which was the first time I heard her say, “Take responsibility for the energy you bring into this space.” Depending on the energy with which we approach any situation, we can evoke very different reactions in the people on the receiving end.
One of my favorite quotes is from the poet Rumi, who wrote, “Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place.” I appreciate the concept that we can define the essence of a place by our presence. Rumi’s and Bolte Taylor’s words remind me to be intentional about the ways in which I interact with others. That even if I don’t speak or act, I bring energy and can be a healthy or unhealthy influence simply by being in the room.
When Jesus walked the earth, he brought love into every situation. He wanted those at the bottom rung of the societal ladder to know that he loved them despite what the culture said about them. Some people reacted to Jesus’ audacity to love everyone by following him and some reacted by hating him because he challenged the status quo with his radical love. But make no mistake, Jesus started a reaction wherever he went.
It’s easy to forget that we can make a difference in others’ lives just by going about our daily business. Sometimes, we are so consumed by our own issues that we be become blind to the ripple effects we can cause. Often, we don’t believe we have the power to make a difference. We feel we don’t matter that much and therefore won’t have an impact. Although we may not start a reaction that will change the world, rest assured we are constantly starting reactions that impact others.
In the new year, I wonder what would happen if we recognized that we can start reactions at any time. I’m not advocating for false cheerfulness or displays of inauthentic happiness because people will see through those demonstrations. But I think God wants us to show genuine caring and compassion for others and, in so doing, start a love reaction that can make a difference in their lives and in ours.