One of the greatest rewards in life is knowing you have made a difference. But, how do you know when you've made a difference? Sometimes, you get lucky enough to hear from those you've impacted, but more often than not you simply have to trust that your words, actions, prayers, and commitments are, in fact, making a difference.
So, what should you do if you feel as if you aren't making an impact? I mean, c'mon, between crazy schedules, work, play, birthday parties, music lessons, Facebook, extra curriculars, Netflix and sports fields, when am I supposed to make a difference?
Or, maybe you think you aren't making a big enough difference; like you've failed at the American Dream of altruism because something only counts if it's big.
Every now and then I catch a glimmer of my impact in this world. Like the sparkler I light every 4th of July; my little light shines bright, sends sparks all over the place, but quickly fizzles out as I try to prevent it from burning my hand. Then, I'm left to stare at my neighbor's fireworks and wonder why I even bothered to light my sparkler in the first place.
If you're anything like me you need reminding amidst the everyday moment to moment sort of life we lead that you are making a difference in small, but powerful ways.
Remember that comparison is the thief of joy
No, really it is. Theodore Roosevelt (the guy who said that famous quote) was right - especially if a person is feeling down about themselves. So, don't compare your sparkler with someone's else's fireworks.
Remember that you have something to offer that no one else can. Somehow we have come to believe that unless we are doing, or saying, or being like that person, we are less worthy. However, the world already has that person, so what the world needs is you.
Comparison will cause you to discount yourself which will diminish your impact. Jealousy, a close relative of comparison, then has a chance to drag you down the path of bitterness. Instead of taking that path, remind yourself that another person's impact or success does not take away from your own impact or success. In fact, your celebration of someone else will probably have a profound impact on them and make a difference in their life. Try it. You may be surprised.
Remember that caring for those close to you matters. A lot.
You've probably seen the quote from Mother Teresa floating around social media that says, "If you want to change the world, go home and love your family." While this is a good statement, it isn't exactly what Mother Teresa said. What she actually said was, "Spread love everywhere you go; first of all in your house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next-door neighbor..." This has a similar feel to the other, but recognizes that a neighbor (anyone around you) should be loved, and treated, like family. Are your kids tucked in at night with full bellies and the knowledge they are loved? Have you told a friend how much they mean to you? Has a neighbor, or even a stranger, shared a meal around your table?
Remember that Loving Big often means thinking small.
Apparently, it's Mother Teresa quote day here on the blog, but she gave love so extravagantly that her words warrant sharing. She said, "Don't look for big things, just do small things with great love....The smaller the thing, the greater must be our love." If your idea of making an impact has to involve lots and lots of people all over the place then you are going to find yourself overextended and exhausted. Set aside any expectation of grandeur. Just forget it. Instead, ask yourself if you are making your moments matter. It's in those small moments that big love can be shown. That means that third poopy diaper you've changed today matters. That meal you brought to your neighbor matters. That smile you gave that lady at Walmart (or Target) matters. That scowl (or hand gesture) you kept to yourself when the car in front of you cut you off. You get the idea.
Remember that LOVE IS NEVER WASTED.
I promise you that love is never wasted. Yes, that's right. Love is never wasted. Remind yourself of that often. Everything you do to show love, mercy and compassion is the best choice you can make. It may not always seem like it, but love has this way of making itself useful even if it seems like you've sent it out into the stratospheres never to be seen again. If you are in the habit of being a loving presence in someone else's life your impact will be felt for a lifetime. Continue showing genuine concern for others and you'll eventually see the difference it makes.
MORE THAN LIKELY, YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE.
Back in the day when every town had at least three klatch-ey little indie coffee shops, I sat in one such establishment and declared to everyone gathered that I would never, ever have children because I was deathly afraid of being a horrible parent. One person replied that, because of my fear of being a bad parent, I would probably make a great parent. Similarly, I sort of think that if you're worried about making a difference then you probably are making a difference.
But, if want to make a greater impact then consider volunteering in your community by sharing your skills or services with people in need. There are plenty of organizations through which you could volunteer. Get creative. The world needs you. I promise.
You may never see the full impact of your life, but your sparkler is there. Light it up and keep going. Even if your neighbor sets off his big fireworks and even if your afraid that your sparkler will burn your hand. It is so worth it. You are worth it. You are making a difference.