Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The ABC’s of Discernment: O is for Others

Very few of us live as hermits in this world. Indeed, the fact that you are reading this indicates you are probably not a hermit. And if you are not a hermit, this means you interact with other people: friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances, enemies.

Now people affect other people. Sometimes the effect is positive and sometimes it is negative. The influence can be largely one direction, and you may be the influencer (such as in mentoring a student) or the one influenced (like when you sit under a pastor). Or the impact may be mutual, as in a close friendship.

What difference does this make with our personal limitations?

On one hand, it means limiting ourselves for the sake of other people. Most of us want to be good influences and set a good example. Moreover, we are instructed to love one another and treat others as we want to be treated. At times, this will mean not doing things we would otherwise be free to do, especially around someone of lesser physical or spiritual maturity. You would not consume alcohol around a known recovering alcoholic, nor would you take a six-year-old into an r-rated movie. Likewise, you might need avoid discussing some controversial theology in front of a new Christian or box some books until your kids are older.

On the other hand, people’s influence on you may also require extra limitations on your part. For instance, spending time with a family member may reinforce an old lie or fear you fight, or working with a coworker may consistently expose you to a bad habit or wrong way of thinking. This does not mean you must cut ties with such people, although on a rare occasion, such extreme measures might be necessary. Rather, avoiding additional reinforcement of the negative—especially in media—might be the way to go. You will also want to implement counterbalances, like memorizing extra Scripture to counter the lie or spending time with a friend who can help you “detox.”

And so by being aware of the influences around us and of the influence we exert, we can strengthen our relationships in a healthy manner, both for others and us.

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