Disheveled Theologian: The power of influence

O'Donnell Gretchen

Winter always feels like a great time to cuddle up on the couch with a good book, a cup of hot chocolate and a cozy blanket. Sure, it may be blowing and snowing outside, but inside it’s Book Reading Time!

I always have a stack of books at the ready, because who knows what I’ll be in the mood for? I also have my Kindle, though half the time I go to read from it the battery is dead. I still have a couple of books from Christmas in my stack that I haven’t yet read and far down in the stack — it wasn’t a Christmas gift, don’t worry — there is a book on menopause, but let’s face it, that’s not really a cuddle-up-to-read book. It’s more of a “what’s-wrong-with-me-I-think-I’m-insane-maybe-this-book-has-answers” kind of book.

Books given and received at Christmas always bring back childhood memories for me. My mom worked at a bookstore/gift shop/rare print shop that still is located downtown in Eastsound, the main village on Orcas Island, Wash., where I grew up. The store sits right above the beach, looking out over Eastsound itself — the actual bay that splits the island almost into two.

Mom took great advantage of the employee discount she received, which meant that there were months when, I know for a fact, she had to pay the store because she’d spent more money on books than she’d earned. This meant that we got a lot of books for Christmas. And birthdays. And in our Easter baskets.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love books. I did then and I do now. But I admit — and vividly remember — that when I opened the umpteenth book one Christmas morning when I was a kid, I was disappointed. I shouldn’t have been. But I was.


I’m not sure what I wanted instead, but I know I was crestfallen. Another book! Thank you.

The irony, of course, is that now I am a writer and my children, quite possibly, experienced that same deflated feeling. That same moment where, as they felt their gift through the wrapping paper, they hoped that what appeared to be a book may, in fact, have been a book-shaped box containing something like an American Girl doll, miraculously miniaturized, or Lego, perhaps, somehow sound-proofed.

I saw a listing this week of the Top 10 books checked out of the New York Public Library over its 125-year history. The majority of the books on the list are children’s books — given that picture books are read much faster and therefore returned to circulation sooner accounts for some of that. But I also love the implication that parents have been faithfully bringing their kids to the library for decades. That’s encouraging. Ideally, those kids then grow up to be adults who go to the library as well.

Some of the books on the list have been around for most of the 125 years that the library has been open, but one is just barely older than my 20-year-old son. One book, the NPR story revealed, which received Honorable Mention, likely would have been on the Top 10 list but the long-time head librarian detested it, so it was never available to check out until her influence was over. Poor New York City children, never able to check out "Goodnight Moon" from the library.

Isn’t influence an interesting thing? My mom’s love of books influenced me. The librarian’s dislike of a book influenced the entire history of the New York Public Library (albeit in a small way). And the oldest book on the list — Dale Carnegie’s "How to Win Friends and Influence People" (number eight on the list) — proves right there that influence is something that matters to people. People was to make an impact. People want to be remembered.

What do you want to be remembered for? What sort of influence do you want to have? We all have power in our relationships — through our words, our examples, our actions — to influence people for good or for bad. My prayer for myself and for you is that the influence we wield would be impacted by Jesus. There is no better example to follow; no better image to leave behind.

“Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone”. Proverbs 25:15 NIV

PS: To read the story on the library, go to and search for New York City Library. It should pop right up.


Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is .

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