Influenced, or influential?

It may come as a surprise that gardens are not always methodically planned and executed. Some plants may not thrive while others overgrow their intended borders. The scene is constantly changing, even with diligent effort.

The geraniums near the roses planted to repel aphids didn’t thrive in the dry soil near the driveway. They were eventually replaced by petunias, which looked better near the rose bushes. Maybe I should have known that petunias would be no better. Eventually, the low-growing sedums took over the ground, and provided a nice ground cover for the striped rose.

Gradually, the space filled up with daffodils, grape hyacinths, and bachelor’s buttons. The plants were so abundant that the pathway had to be moved to the other side of the rose bush.

The decision to have roses in that spot influenced subsequent decisions, and then even the backup plans for the bed. The rose bush was never removed nor replaced with something easier to work with. It had an important part to play in the garden, and the changes happened all around it.

We are not really defined by the people around us, any more than a rose becomes something else because of its companions. It is what’s inside our souls and spirits that defines us.

It is not always possible to be surrounded by those with whom we’d like to associate. Often, the closest people in our lives are not the ones we choose, but rather those who came into our lives by birth, employment, or chance encounters.

And here’s the most unfair example of all; many people are married to someone they do not consider soulmates. Some are downright unlikeable. However, this is not the tragedy that society will lead you to believe it is. After all, for much of mankind’s existence, marriages were arranged by parents. Husbands and wives are told to love each other (Ephesians 5:25, Titus 2:4).

Since our culture allows us choice in the matter, it’s important to choose well. The fact remains that it doesn’t always happen that way.

Few are born with a storybook existence in an ideal family, with best friends happily surrounding us and encouraging us from childhood.

Our work, our families, and our restricted access to desired circles limit our associations and even what we consider our friendships. We do not possess unlimited choices in what our closest circles can be. Even when we choose well, time and distance may not permit close or frequent association.

But we do have some choices.

We can make friends with the best that our circles and community offers, rather than whatever comes easiest.

Another choice is to be an influence for good in a bad situation. We can stand out and inspire improvement as much as my two-toned rose stood out.

This is NOT to say one should intentionally choose a bad environment or partnership with a false hope of being a missionary for good in it. That is usually a recipe for disaster, especially for the young (1 Corinthians 15:33).

But we can be salt and light in a dark and distasteful world, however small our circle of influence is (Matthew 5:13-16).

Just as the garden around the rose bush changed because of the beauty and desirability of this sweet-smelling rose, we can influence those who surround us. Even the traffic pattern was changed, because it was better than tearing out the best part of the garden.

You never know what your influence will be, even in a bad situation. Be the beautiful and rare one!

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