An important learning: a light to oneself is a light to all others.
Everybody thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. These words of Tolstoy I have always remembered and thought about: wanting to change the world- connect, impact things, matter- it is in the very core of who we are as human beings. No matter who we are, connection and authentic impact on the lives of other people are part of our innate desire.
However we express it- or sometimes don't express it- you can really find in the heart of every person a craving for community, connection, and sharing; for the giving and receiving of love, and acceptance.
Fear tells us to hoard, covet, desire and lust for unsatisfying things; love tells us to give, to share, to really value others, to create something in this world, for this world.
One huge learning that I have come to the real, profound internalization of in recent years is that to acknowledge this truth- that we want to connect, impact people, and change the world- means to acknowledge something else also: that there is something innate within us that calls us to believing we are worthy of such a thing.
Basically, we all have this desire whether or not we know what to actually do with it.
Making the connection between that we want to make a difference and how we possibly can is the hard part- and I think the part where a lot of people stop. Or, I guess you could say, never start really living.
To really want to make an impact on the world, and the people around you, a kind of self transformation needs to take place first. How can we move from knowing that we want to make a difference to knowing how? Trust in the process is most important; imagination- the ability to see ideas through over time- is more important than knowledge, than seeing the 'answer' right now.
Even more than you need to change to be of help to others, I have learned there is a deeper subtly that needs to take place too: you need to want to be changed before you can have an authentic, genuine, heart-level impact on one person, or the world.
I had always thought that the best way to help people was to expend a lot of effort in trying; but the best way to help people is to show them an example of what it looks like to love life- that way, they can imagine what it might look like to love theirs.
I had always thought that the best way to make an impact was to receive popular acknowledgement that you did; but the best way to make an impact is to quietly help the hearts and self-esteem of others without any need for being outwardly recognized- that way, you know that they, and not your ego, are lifted up.
I, maybe most counter-intuitively, had always thought that loving myself first and foremost was the best and only way to really love others; but, I have learned, that's not quite it either. I do believe, of course, that you need to love and value yourself- but you also need to know that you are loved and valued.
There is the important missing piece: how can you give consistently, unconditionally, eternally to others if you yourself are not consistently, unconditionally, eternally receiving yourself? You can only give what you have, so to feel lost, empty, purposeless, or unsatisfied means you won't be able to give very much.
I have learned, in short, that to be a light to this world, you must love God the most.
This may seem like an unusual suggestion, and one that may not make any applicable sense, but there is so much learning necessary to understand it- learning that, as it's absorbed and applied, becomes very real, functional, and revolutionary. There is nothing more self-transformational and life-giving than, rather than trying to convince yourself that you, or other people, matter, you simply focus instead on the greater picture that perhaps you were never meant to fight that battle anyway.
Maybe it's not actually up to us try to love or change others or the world. Maybe it's up to God- and what's up to us is to love Him.
"When you are in love, you learn to love the things that you once never cared about because the person you love cares about them. This is why Christ told us that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God; when we love God, we love others, we love the orphans and the widows. We love the world even when it hates us, we desire to see people healed and love restored.
You want to change the world? Then you need to start loving God in such a way that your entire world changes. That is the beauty of transformational love; it doesn't just affect you, it affects all those around you." -T.B. LaBerge
Those words say it so perfectly. If you want to have any impact on the world (or on yourself, or on your children, or on your spouse, or co-workers, or friends...), then you need to have an impact on the individual hearts of people. To do that, you have to understand how much they are loved; and to do that, you have to understand how much you are loved. Learning about God's love through Christ will completely change your fundamental ideas about the worth of people- which includes the worth of you.
We can't have an impact on others by convincing them that this is something we would like to achieve; this is something we all want to achieve. Imagine all the situations where real, authentic connection with others was the best possibility for real, authentic results- personal relationships, work relationships; love and marriage; friendship; even encounters with total strangers or new social groups.
And imagine you were so wholly yourself that rather than trying to connect or make a difference, you simply did. Just by way of your being, just by way of who you have allowed yourself to become, you changed something. Not by wanting to for you, to satisfy your life; but by wanting to for a purpose much higher than you, to satisfy what you understand as the force which placed that desire in you in the first place.
You are closing the gap between the self you have acquired by the pain and purposelessness you've experienced in the world, and the promise that you already feel internally that you were designed for more than that.
Imagine that the most important thing you are on this earth to realize is that you are loved- not metaphorically or whimsically, but really and literally. Imagine that life is about God, not you. Imagine what kind darkness that awareness would drive out, and what kind of light it would cast.