The Ripple Effect
There is a Liberty Mutual commercial showing a sequence of different people helping others. One person notices someone being helpful, and they then become helpful to another person and so on. It's a chain of kindnesses done from one person to another. That is an example of the ripple effect.
When a stone is dropped in water, ripples expand outward in every direction. The ripples keep expanding, although we may not see the extent of their reach. In the same way, our actions have a ripple effect in the world and can set off a chain of events that touch the lives of others, even people we have never met.
The first example of this in the Bible is in the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve sin and death enters into the world, having a ripple effect on all of humanity. That's a negative ripple. Jesus came, was obedient to the Father, and brought salvation to all. That's a positive ripple. When the Apostle Paul preached the Good News to his jailers, they were converted and their entire households were baptized. That's a positive ripple.
So there are positive and negative ripples. Every action is a stone thrown into the water, creating a series of ripples. As Christians, we should always strive to send out positive ripples with our actions.
So what are the stones that we drop into the world that create a ripple effect?
Everyday encounters. How we interact with others makes a difference. Are we kind and cheerful? Do we care about their comfort? Do we notice others and acknowledge them? Do we take time to listen to them? I remember once going to confession and thinking I was the last person in line. Because my back was to the church, I didn't realize that a line had formed until I was finished. But during my confession, the priest, who had a good view of the growing line, never showed that. He made me think I was the most important person in that moment. It was a real gift to me, and one I try to give others – being fully present to them when in a conversation. Focusing on them alone rather than looking for others I might want to talk with. I have to make an effort to be attentive and present. I know that when I succeed, that's a positive stone in the water, with ripples spreading into the world.
Our work. Imagine being a craftsman on a grand cathedral, like St. Patrick's in New York or St. Peter's in Rome. Hundreds of years ago someone used their skills to be part of a monument to God. Today, when someone walks into one of those churches, they are drawn to the grandeur of God. They may even come to believe because of the beauty of the church. Most of us aren't contributing to something that big in the world, but we all have some work we do. I have a podcast and blog. I write books. I do retreats. These are ways that I reach people so that my faith in God is spread like a ripple coming from a stone dropped in the water. Amazingly, my podcast has been listened to in 22 different countries. I don't know how that happened because I don't know anybody in most of those places. But it's the ripple effect.
Whatever your work, whether paid or volunteer or even at home, how you do that work matters. It sends a ripple through your family, your workplace, your church, your community, your country, and through the entire world. If we knew the impact our work could have, we might approach it differently. Maybe you work in fast food or another service industry. Your positive greeting can be a ripple of kindness sent into the world. Whatever you do, do it well and that work will have a ripple effect on others.
Our crosses. How we deal with the trials of life sends a message to others. It can inspire them. It can turn them to God. See what happened with St. Paul and his jailers. The way he lived his imprisonment converted people. He changed their lives and gave them a future with God. When suffering, do we fight it kicking and screaming, or do we yield to God's will and offer up our suffering. Are we able to stay kind when we are hurting? When my dad was dying of cancer, he was often in pain. One day at Mass we were in the first pew – where people sit who can't go up for Communion. He was very weak, but during the consecration of the Eucharist, he knelt down. In all his pain, with all his weakness, he knelt at that most holy moment of the Mass. I will remember that always, and when I feel like leaning back rather than kneeling properly, I am reminded of my dying father and his reverence for Jesus in the Eucharist. Surely I can kneel like him. He left a positive ripple for me and for many others.
Our faith. When we share our faith, we can spread the Good News to the ends of the earth. That's what happened with 12 ordinary men chosen by Jesus. Their faith spread throughout the world. I think too often people are afraid to throw the stone of their faith into the water of the world. What will people think? I don't want to impose my beliefs on them. That thinking comes from the enemy of our souls. Paul wrote in Romans Chapter 10: How will they know if nobody tells them? It's not just the professional preachers who are supposed to spread the word – it's all of us. Does our behavior reflect what we say we believe? Do we look any different from the atheists and agnostics?
How we live, how we act, how we speak, all of that is noticed by others. It sends a ripple through the world. We live in a world with a lot of bad stuff – a lot of evil – a lot of hurt people. You may have heard it said that hurt people hurt people. That's the ripple effect. But it doesn't have to be that way.
St. Peter wrote that love covers a multitude of sins. If I can put more love into the world, I can change the world. That love – God's love – is the ripple that will change the world. I am an instrument of God's love. YOU are an instrument of God's love. How awesome is our God that He entrusts this mission of love to us – we who are broken, imperfect, self-centered at times. Yet He does. He wants us to make a difference. To drop good stones in that water, starting a ripple effect that spreads far and wide and changes the world.
Questions for Prayer:
- How have you benefited from the ripple effect of others? Pray in thanksgiving for those who have drawn you closer to God.
- What are the stones you drop in the water of life? Are they sending out positive ripples? What can you do to make more positive ripples in the world?