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March 08, 2017

The Influence of Friends

You are who you spend time with. 
— Dr. Tim Clinton 

The day Tim and I left Megan at kindergarten was really hard for us. Her hair was up in a bow, and her lunch box was at her side. We sat her down at her desk, got out her crayons, made small talk with the teacher, and kissed Megan goodbye. 

Then it sunk in—this was her first day with someone we really didn't know. Someone who would teach her and influence her from this day forward for as many waking hours as we had with her, if not more.

The people you spend time with shape you and influence how you think, feel, act, and react.

Who or what is shaping you? Tim and I have worked hard to help our children choose their friends wisely because we know peers are such an influence on young people. Lately, I've pondered the importance of choosing friends wisely as adults too. Though peers may not influence us as much as they do our children, they do hold weight in our lives. We must be sure that it's not deadweight that creates an unnecessary burden or a negative influence.

Philippians 4:8 tells us, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

Do the meaningful relationships in your life allow you to think about these things? Or do they cause you worry, despair, and anxiety?

Make a mental list of those closest to you and ask yourself if each individual has a positive, negative, or neutral influence on you. When you identify someone whose influence is negative, you may be tempted to end the relationship with her. But doing so may cause you to miss the opportunity to speak into her life and be a positive influence on her, even if she is a negative influence on you. The key is identifying these individuals and making sure you are careful and balanced when you're around them so that your influence on them is greater than their influence on you.

Let me tell you about a young woman named Allison (not her real name). The summer between her junior and senior year of college, she met a guy in a local coffee shop. He was six years older than she. She was flattered when he bought her a latte, and after an hour of stimulating conversation, she shared her phone number with him. He called the next day. She was thrilled.

The two fell into a relationship that would last throughout the summer and most of her senior year, even though she returned to college, which was in a different city. Steve was thoughtful, kind, and considerate. He wrote long love letters and called daily. He sent special "thinking of you" gifts. He was easy to talk to, had a great sense of humor, and had a wide variety of interests. He was one of the few suitors she had who actually attended church with her. There was only one problem.

Allison wanted to be a virgin on her wedding night, but Steve kept pressuring her to have sex. She began to dread seeing him because she knew the battle would be the same. After some heavy kissing, she would once again have to fight him off and answer the same question, which he asked every time she resisted his advances: "Don't you love me?" Allison tried to explain that she did. She asked Steve to weigh her actions as proof: She responded to his calls, wrote letters in response to his, and caught a ride to her hometown whenever possible to see him.

It wasn't enough, however. Steve gave her an ultimatum: sleep with him "or else." 

Allison chose the "or else," and the relationship ended. Her influence on Steve did not, however. A month after their breakup, she learned from her brother that Steve continued to attend church with her family in her absence. Two months later, he invited Christ into his heart, became a Christian, and was baptized.

Though it was too late for his relationship with Allison, it wasn't too late for Steve. He had been influenced by her faith, which eventually led him to discovering his own belief in God.

I'm interested in this story for two reasons. First, Allison realized that though Steve had a lot to offer in their relationship, ultimately his presence in her life was negatively influencing her. For her own well-being, she ended the relationship. You and I may also be called to make a similar decision at some point in our lives—maybe more than once. Proverbs 27:12 says, "The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it." We must be prudent when we see danger in our relationships.

Ending unhealthy relationships is hard. But undoing the damage they may do to us is often harder. Consequently, to enjoy meaningful relationships, we must be wise when choosing whom to spend time with.

The second reason I shared this story is that though Steve wasn't a good influence on Allison, she was a good influence on him. Had she not spent time with him, she wouldn't have led him to the Christian faith. Our relationships are like that, too. We don't know who will come to faith or when, where, or why. We can't force faith on someone else, so we must simply be willing to share our own faith story and to answer any resulting questions. God will take care of the rest.

After identifying the negative influences in our lives, we must also go a step further and ask ourselves if the good influence we can be in these instances is worth remaining in the relationship.

We all will face times when our relationships get crazy, times when we know that they will adversely affect our own lives. Here are some basic principles that will help you analyze your current relationships:

Be honest with yourself
. We can easily turn a blind eye to situations and circumstances in this life. Get an outside perspective if you need to.

Determine the level of others' influence.
Are you angry a lot more? Critical? Negative? Are you soft with things you used to be firm on? Has your behavior changed? Are you treating others differently? 

Evaluate the relationship in light of Galatians 5:22. Does it reflect the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control)?

You become like the people you spend time with. As you evaluate your earthly relationships, remember that we all need to soak up a little more of Him as well.

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