Like it or not, those around us - especially children, but also others in our circle of influence - are impacted by our daily decisions in various ways. From the way we eat, to the cars we drive and where we spend our money, to the actions we take to reduce our environmental impact, we are setting an example of the kind of life we think is the right one - or at least, that is what those around us assume.
It is up to each of us to be aware of just what kind of example we are setting, and make conscious choices that lead to a life worthy of being emulated.
Sound like a tall order? It's really not. In fact, it's something that we all can - and should - aspire to. Here's how.
The point of living as an example is not to be perfect. Not only will you never achieve this, but you will set others up for failure as well. The point is to strive to be the kind of person you want to be; even if you never quite get all the way there, it is the striving that matters.
In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18: 9-14), Jesus explained how the Pharisee was so proud of himself for setting an example of how to live "righteously," but in truth he wasn't righteous at all - he was self-righteous, which is not at all the same thing. He considered himself to be superior to others, and even in his prayers, he set himself above everyone else. The tax collector, on the other hand, humbled himself before God, and in doing so, he was the one who walked away with peace in his heart.
Setting an example does not mean we are to look at our lives as better than anyone else's, or to set ourselves apart and above others. What it does mean is that we should focus on doing our best to be our best, and living the life we have with integrity.
I think that, as Christians, this is especially important. It's hard to admit to being a Christian these days, and that makes me sad, but I also understand the reason for it. The reason is that, unfortunately, the impression many people have of Christians or church-goers is the example of the Pharisee. When Christians give the air of being "perfect," or better than non-Christians because we are "saved," etc., this leads to hypocrisy, because of course we're no more perfect than anyone else. We're all sinners (and I say this not in the sense of "fire & brimstone," but in the old, original meaning of the word sin: to error, or "to miss the mark"). We all "miss the mark" sometimes. We all slip up. We all fail. This is just what it means to be human.
Living your life as an example won't change this (Christian or not) - nor should you expect it to. Perfection is unattainable - at least in this life - but setting an example for the kind of person you would like to be, and the kind of positive difference you would like to make in the world - is certainly attainable by everyone - no matter who you are or what your life circumstances. And this should be what being a Christian means.
It should mean that, even in the poorest, meanest conditions, you can shine the light that God meant for you to be. You can treat others with kindness and love. You can choose patience over anger, and forgiveness over hatred. It won't always be easy, and yes, you will slip up sometimes. Sometimes you will say things you don't mean - or even worse, you will kind of mean them.... But the goal is always to keep your eye on the example of the person you would like to be remembered as, and let that guide your choices.
Trying to live as an example helps you remember a simple truth; you can't change others, you can only change yourself. Or, to cite that new-agey phrase: "Be the change you want to see in the world." :-)
As we come upon the season for New Year's Resolutions, I hope that you will consider resolving in the year ahead to set an example - for your kids, for your spouse, for your co-workers, and those around you. Live with intention, integrity, tolerance, compassion, and love. Do your best to forgive those who hurt you - in most cases they probably don't know any better. Accept others differences. Learn to live with flaws - both in yourself and others. Take care of your body. Take care of your loved ones. Take care of the planet. Be someone you would admire.
Lastly, remember that we are all connected, and we are all the same - made in God's image. Black, white, brown, male, female, or somewhere in between - we are all one thing: HUMAN. By always keeping in mind this simple truth, you will be setting the best example there is.
Merry Christmas everyone!