During the 1980’s, New York City averaged well over 2,000 murders and 600,000 serious felonies a year. It tipped in 1990, and all of a sudden the crime rate went into a precipitous decline. Murders dropped by two thirds, felonies were cut in half. The place where there was the most crime (the underground subway system) crime fell by 75%. What happened? What changed? Why did tens of thousands of people stop committing crimes? Malcolm Gladwell writes one possibility in his book “The Tipping Point”. He calls it “The Broken Windows Theory”. He writes:
“if a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes. In a city, relatively minor problems like graffiti, public disorder, and aggressive panhandling, they write, are all the equivalent of broken windows, invitations to more serious crimes.”
This theory says that crime is contagious…it can start with a broken window and spread to an entire community. So the New York Transit Authority put The Broken Windows Theory into practice. They decided to focus on the little things like stopping graffiti and preventing people from getting onto the subway without buying a ticket. Many were angry, thinking they should focus on the larger questions of crimes and subway reliability. Worrying about graffiti at a time when the entire system was close to collapse seemed as pointless as scrubbing the decks of the Titanic as it headed to the icebergs. But the plan was put into place.
They started to clean up the graffiti. A typical graffiti painting on a train takes three days…kids would paint the first side one night, the outlining the second night, and the third night they would color it in. The Broken Windows Committee would wait until they had just finished the mural and then walk over with rollers and paint over it. They did this project for 6 years and it dramatically reduced crime. Going after the little things like graffiti and arresting people who got on the train without a ticket completely turned around the subway system and reduced New York City’s crime rate by two thirds!
The point is: context matters, little things matter. This is especially important when it comes to family! Just as getting rid of graffiti and fixing broken windows stopped criminal activity, sometimes the little things you do when you are with your family can start making a difference. How you live makes an impact in your family’s life.
If you are a Christian and your family is not, here are four little things you could do to share your faith with them and help you cope in this difficult time.
Ask yourself; What needs to be fixed? The Bible says that the good deeds we do can cause others to glorify God. What we do matters. Even the little things. When Christ comes into our life, our lives change. When we change, our family notices. They see it. They may not always come around right away, but they see it. In this way, we are being a witness of Christ’s love and grace. In time, even during the tough times, they will see the eternal hope and joy that we have in Christ, and realize they are missing out on something in their life. As we allow God to repair the broken windows in our lives, others will see and take notice and their attitudes and lives can change as well.
Secondly, we can invest in their lives. Don’t give up on them or burn bridges! Even though the relationship will be difficult at times, try to listen and understand. When we continually put effort into the relationship, we are giving them a chance to see how our lives are different, and hopefully they will ask us where our hope comes from. A relationship between a believer and non-believer can never be as strong as a relationship between two believers, but our goal is to love them and share the grace of God in a way that makes sense to them.
The third thing we can do is pray. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 simply tells us to “pray continually.” I love that phrase because it tells us we should never give up! To pray continually means we have faith that God still is listening to our prayers. Even if we’ve prayed a thousand times for someone and they still don’t believe, it doesn’t mean that we should stop. We persist because we know from God’s Word that God listens to our prayers and answers them according to his perfect will. We never give up praying as individuals and as a community as we share our prayer requests with others.
This leads us right into my last point. If you are a believer whose family aren’t Christians, I urge you to get involved in a community of believers that will support you and pray with you. Your congregation could become the community that serves and supports you spiritually, just as a family should….a place where you are cared for, where you can rejoice and enjoy God’s blessings with one another, and also a place where you can cry and share life’s sufferings and trials together. God’s plan is that we are in community with others. We shouldn’t have to bear our burdens by ourselves, but rather we can love and care for one another in Christian community.
It is God’s desire that everyone would believe in Him and be saved. But sadly that’s not the case. As we tackle this problem together, we can live in his love and grace. His love and grace changes us. It changes who we are. By Jesus’ death on the cross, God has forgiven us for everything we have done in the past. That grace, that free gift, enables us to start fixing the broken windows in our lives. He gives us a second chance, a third chance, and so on, to live our lives differently and for his glory. When we do that, even though you may think it’s just a little thing, it can make a big difference in the lives of our family members and close friends that do not believe in Christ.