Mending Influence

I can’t say that doing yard work is my sweet spot in life, but I must admit that it’s pretty fun when my kids get enthused about helping daddy out. It’s pretty entertaining really, cute even — especially with the 2-ft shovel I purchased just to be sure everybody had a tool their size. Good times for sure…that is, until it’s time to clean up and one of the kids picks up a garden tool bigger than themselves! Whether the rake, hoe, or full-size shovel, all those warm fuzzies turn into anxieties about what (or who!) might get whacked and thwacked unintentionally. Though hopeful of being helpful, my kids’ efforts can turn destructive when they’re oblivious to their radius of reach and blind to their sphere of impact. Thankfully, like all of us, my kids will eventually outgrow that spatial unawareness to a relatively safe degree.

But it makes me wonder: Is there a spiritual unawareness that we all need to outgrow?

Are there blindspots in our spiritual radius of reach that make others anxious about what or who might get whacked and thwacked around us?

LIKE TEACHER, LIKE DISCIPLE

In Luke 6:39-42, Jesus asks some pointed questions that should make us pause to consider whether we have blindspots in our lives. The urgency of recognizing our own blindspots is highlighted by the reality that there is a mending (Gr. kataritzo) that occurs whether we want it to or not. Over the previous two posts, we’ve begun a journey of exploring what all needs mending, restoring, proper adjustment, and exact fitting in our lives. In Luke 6:40, Jesus identifies a mending that happens almost as a rule of nature:

The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

Luke 6:40, NIV

Simple enough, right? The student-teacher relationship is a relationship of influence. As the teacher’s influence is exerted, the student eventually becomes properly adjusted and exactly fitted to the mold of the teacher. Students are mended to their teachers, so to speak. If Luke 6:40 was a stand-alone verse that showed up in the book of Proverbs, we’d just think of it as a succinctly phrased truism. But, this statement of truth isn’t an isolated proverb. It has context, and that it’s tucked away in a parable that Jesus tells about those who attempt to lead the blind even though they themselves can’t see a lick:

39 He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Luke 6:39-42, NIV

Do we see what Jesus sees? Go ahead, read it again and ask yourself, What is Jesus getting at here?

BEWARE OF BLINDNESS

I’m sure there are a lot of ways to apply this teaching, but as I’ve been reading and re-reading this passage over the last few weeks, here are my big takeaways:

Takeaway #1 — In our relationships, we all have influence. We all have the capacity to lead others around us. Leading others is a given in Jesus’ parable. It’s not just a possibility, it’s the reality. It’s such a fact of life that even when we’re blind and unfit to lead others, i.e. when our influence isn’t all that welcome or productive, we have an impact on those in our relational spheres. In terms of Christian community, that means we all have the potential to disciple one another…for better or for worse.

Takeaway #2 — If we all have the potential to disciple others in our spheres, that means we have the potential to make others become like us. Therefore, we must be careful that we don’t lead/influence/disciple from blindness. Remember, as Jesus said, students aren’t above their teachers. Instead they become mended to, reflectors of the teacher’s example. There are times when we conclude that others around us are blind or that they need to be redirected. No problem with that, but when we step into the role of teacher/influencer in someone else’s life by attempting to actually initiate that redirection, when we take a hands-on approach to that friend’s or family member’s correction, we may be doing more harm than good if we’re approaching that situation while plagued with our own blindness and need for redirection. For one thing, they won’t rise above the example we ourselves set. They’ll only be led to more blindness. Furthermore, like a child toting a shovel in my two-car garage is blind to their spatial reach, a blind influencers’ desire to help may actually result in hurt.

And in that case, the real need is for our blindspot-ridden influence to be mended and properly adjusted.

Takeaway #3 — The rest of Jesus’ parable spells out a prescription for mending our influence:  have the good sense and the heart humility to remove planks from our own eyes. I’ll admit that the word pictures Jesus draws up here are pretty hilarious. But don’t let the humor of it distract you from Jesus’ intent. Sure the comedy softens the blow for a poignant pill to swallow (oh man, I have a plank in my eye!), but the hyperbole of Jesus’ teaching actually underscores that, relatively speaking, our own plank-sized blindness needs to be dealt with long before seeking to lead others out of and through their own speck-sized issues. That’s why the apostle Paul exhorts the Christian community to engage discipling relationships and dynamics in others that need correction with a spirit of gentleness that comes from having considered and examined yourself (Gal. 6:1-4). It’s when we haven’t taken the time to examine our own hearts, motives, and lives that we approach those situations without gentleness and end up having a destructive impact, both on the one we hoped to help and even on ourselves.

So how’s your influence in others’ lives? If that’s a knot that needs some mending, join me in praying for heart humility. May the Lord grant us both eyes to see our planks and the courage to actually let God remove them so we can have a saving influence in others’ lives.