I recycle because I have a friend who recycles.
I mean, I have a friend who recycles. She carries a bag with her when she goes on walks simply so she can pick up trash. When she comes to visit, she brings me all the recyclables she can’t recycle in her own town, because my town has a broader recycling program. “Maybe I’ll inspire someone else,” she says. And by someone, she occasionally means me.
Any activist will tell you that the hardest thing to initiate is a change in someone’s behavior. This was certainly true for me. I agreed 100% with everything my friend told me. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” she’d quote. “Absolutely!” I’d agree.
But my behavior didn’t change.
Now I should clarify. I would occasionally pick up trash and pack it out of my favorite hiking haunts. Or I might pick up something blown from a dumpster and return it. I would recycle when it was convenient, but when it took a little more effort… not so much.
This same friend sent me an article about the impacts of plastics in our oceans. It made me sad at what we are doing to our planet. It made me feel guilty over my part in it. But it still didn’t drive me to action.
So what was it that actually changed my behavior? First, my friend’s persistence. But more importantly, she didn’t drive me to it. She led me to it.
Too often when we are trying to change someone’s behavior – or even when we are trying to change our own – we try to drive the change like a cowboy driving a herd of cattle. We crack the whip of reason. We coerce. We plead. But instead of a stampede toward the corral, the result is usually more like a baulking bull. Even when we want to change, we find ourselves pushing back rather than embracing a new behavior.
The Bible gives us a different analogy of change.
Jesus didn’t ride herd with a whip. He simply entered the pen through the gate. “I am the good Shepherd,” Jesus told his followers. “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep… He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:2-3,14).
Jesus wasn’t driving the change; Jesus was leading the change. And this is precisely what my friend did to change my recycling habits. One time when she was visiting, she threw me and her recycling in the car and drove to the recycling center. She never said: “I’m going to show you how to recycle so that you will start doing it.” We simply went and recycled together. And after I had done it once, there was no reason for me not to continue.
Sometimes in life, change is elicited simply because we have someone come alongside us and show us how. We have a Father in heaven who first demonstrated this principle for us, by sending Jesus to not just instruct us from afar, but to walk alongside us. Now we can do the same for others.
I wonder how many of us can say, “I am a Christian because I have a friend who is a Christian.” And more importantly, how many of us have friends who can say about us, “I am a Christian, because I have a friend who is a Christian.”
A slightly different version of this post was shared in 2012 – can you believe I have been blogging that long? It was revamped to share recently at inspireafire.com. I hope you enjoyed it!