Yesterday morning the school bus skipped our stop. It didn’t even go past our stop. It went right past the corner where it was supposed to turn, and I watched it galumph on down the street, picking up children at stops along the way and missing an entire loop with several stops–including ours.
This school year has been plagued with bus problems; the kids on our bus sit three to a seat, we’ve had at least 10 different drivers on the route, and it’s difficult to know when to go to the bus stop when the arrival time varies by 15 to 20 minutes from one day to the next. So this latest failure was not an isolated incident; it was one in a series of problems going back to August.
Last week, when the bus hadn’t arrived after we had been standing outside for 20 minutes, one of the other moms decided to take all the kids at our stop to school–no small task, considering the nightmarish nature of the car line. I’ll spare you the details, but dropping off and picking up kids at this elementary school is not for the weak or easily intimidated. Or for those with busy schedules. So this morning, after the bus drove by and showed no signs of coming back to correct the mistake, I figured it was my turn.
As you can imagine, I wasn’t happy about this inconvenience and the fact that we’re still dealing with bus problems in March. So I was not in the most gracious mood when I made it to the front of the car line and, unfamiliar with the proper procedures, apparently stopped in the wrong place. As the kids were climbing out of the car, one of the women directing traffic came to the car to chastise me for my error. My response was something like “If the bus picked up our kids, I wouldn’t need to be here at all.” Like the bus problem was her fault. I did not say this with a smile, and I think it’s fair to say I did not bless her with my words.
When I got home, I called the school to let them know about the problem with the bus. As the phone rang in the school office, I pictured the person who would answer and reminded myself that none of this was her fault. I was terribly tempted to erupt in frustration, and I had some strong words brewing, hot and fresh. But I said no to this temptation and I had a courteous and respectful conversation with the school secretary, who blessed me in return by expressing empathy and thanking me for letting them know.
It’s funny, part of me believed unloading on that secretary would have felt so good. But after a gracious conversation, I felt so much better.
Thanks to this bus route dysfunction, before 10:00 this morning I had unexpected opportunities to offer blessing or curse to six people, not including the people who live with me. And while the bus incident was an anomaly (even if not as rare as it should be), the opportunities for interaction were not unusual. Like nearly everyone, I have multiple opportunities to bless and curse others each day.
Because I work mostly in a home office, my in-person professional interactions with other people are limited on most days during work time. But in the course of my duties as a mom and a responsible adult, my social encounters increase exponentially. Add in social media interactions, and I interact with potentially thousands of people each day.
We all have dozens, hundreds, or thousands of these opportunities. With them comes the power to bless and curse. In his book Ragman and Other Cries of Faith, Walter Wangerin, Jr., uses two real-life interactions with gas-station attendants to illustrate this same point:
“You say: ‘But how can I serve the Lord? I’m not important. What I do is so common and of little consequence. Anyone can do what I do.’
“But I say to you: ‘Every time you meet another human being you have the opportunity. It’s a chance at holiness. For you will do one of two things, then. Either you will build him up, or you will tear him down. Either you will acknowledge that he is, or you will make him sorry that he is–sorry, at least, that he is there, in front of you. You will create, or you will destroy. And the things you dignify or deny are God’s own property. They are made, each one of them, in his own image.’
“And I say to you: ‘There are no useless, minor meetings. There are no dead-end jobs. There are no pointless lives. Swallow your sorrows, forget your grievances and all the hurt your poor life has sustained. Turn your face truly to the human before you and let her, for one pure moment, shine. Think her important, and then she will suspect that she is fashioned of God.’ “
Consider the potential power inherent in our interactions with others. When we bless or curse someone, we do more than change that person’s mood. We potentially change the way that person interacts with others for at least a few minutes, perhaps all day, perhaps beyond that day. My short conversation with the traffic director at my daughter’s school may have infused all her encounters that day with anger. My courteous conversation with the school secretary may have given her a little boost of kindness she could offer the next few people who called. And each of those people, blessed or cursed by interaction with the women I blessed and cursed with my words . . . well, you get the idea. The ripple effect is potentially limitless.
The Bible actually has quite a lot to say on this subject, in various ways. And the more we read the Bible, the more likely we are to see how much power is in our regular interactions with others. One of the most striking passages is in the book of James, which you can read on Bible Gateway (I recommend reading the whole book):
“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
“All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (James 3:3-10).
Most of us do not have extraordinary influence–which is by definition not ordinary. Most of us live ordinary lives and feel our ability to change the world is quite limited. Our culture treats “ordinary” like a bad word. But what if there’s much more power in ordinary than many of us see? What if these ordinary interactions do more to change people’s hearts than the echoing shouts of celebrities, politicians, and prophets? If we consider the potential of our everyday interactions, which might reverberate around the world, we are more powerful than we often imagine.
Maybe the most overlooked opportunities to bless others are in our own homes. Our family members and roommates are the best recipients to start offering blessings instead of easy curses. How will you use your ordinary power today?
© 2014 Amy Simpson.