One bad apple spoils the whole barrel.
Monkey see, monkey do.
Birds of a feather, flock together.
A man is known by the company he keeps.
We’ve all heard variations of these adages before and I think we can all agree that there’s at least some truth to each of these. Perhaps not in very situation and to the fullest degree, but there’s gotta be some wisdom here, right?
I remember my parents repeatedly telling me when I was younger that I should be careful about who I hung out with. Of course at that time, I paid little attention to their advice. I was too busy jamming out to N’SYNC and following the fashion-forward trends of the 90’s (much like any other respectable 6th grader). In my impatience at having my one-woman concerts and daydreams about being married to Justin Timberlake interrupted, I would tell my parents that they had nothing to worry about – that I COULD NOT be influenced by other people.
Boy, was I wrong.
By the time I hit college, I was a full-fledged people pleaser. In other words, I was very easily influenced, very easily swayed, very easily guilted (or excited) into things. Soon enough, no one had to convince me to do anything… I just did it. Partly because I wanted to and partly because someone else wanted me to. In the end, it didn’t matter because by this time, the lines weren’t just blurred. They were gone. I transformed from the good little girl my parents raised into this rebellious, alter ego version of me. The sad part? I didn’t even realize it was happening.
What’s the point of all of this? To prove one simple concept:
I had a lot of pride. I didn’t think anyone could influence me. I was convinced that I was fully in control of my own decisions and that no one could change me. Yes, I’m solely responsible for all the decisions I’ve made… but I sometimes wonder where I would be, how my story would have turned out if I had submerged myself in a different type of community – one less about self and more about Jesus. I’m convinced things would have drastically differed from reality.
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. | Proverbs 13:20
I didn’t walk with the wise – I walked with the fools. I walked with the worldly. I surrounded myself with people who chased every thrill they could find – no matter how temporary and fleeting it was. I engaged in relationships that promoted indulging in self and pursuing selfish ambitions. And you know what? Much to the dismay of my 13-year old self, I proved my parents right and realized (only too late) that the type of friends you make DO matter. Because when you’re not looking, you turn into them.
So then it was me chasing thrills and looking for highs. It was me indulging my own selfish desires (and justifying them on top of it).
Monkey see, monkey do.
I was the companion of fools. And guess what? Just as it says in Proverbs 13:20, as the companion of fools, I suffered harm.
Physical harm: effects of ingested toxins, lack of sleep, failing classes
Mental harm: depression, insecurity, loneliness, identity confusion
Heart-harm: a shattered heart (which only fed the insecurities/depression)
Interpersonal harm: broken relationships, lack of trust
Spiritual harm: distance from God, lack of peace, lack of hope, guilt, shame
Honestly, I’m still healing in a lot of these places. I’m still dealing with the consequences of my own sin. But I rest in knowing that because of the cross, my sin has been paid for. I rest in knowing that I have been forgiven. I rest in knowing that my Jesus still, and always will, love me.
Now, I’m in no way saying that my friends are to blame for my actions. No, I alone am responsible for my sins. But I will say this: If I had surrounded myself with a godly group of people, I doubt my story would have turned out this way. Sure, I would have had struggles, I would have still fallen into sin. But I think it would have been different. Perhaps less painful, less time-consuming, less consequential, less burdensome. Why do I believe this? Because if I had engaged in godly community, I would have had godly people ministering to me in my struggle.
Friends – especially those of you in college – understand this truth: community matters. Why do people hang out together? Because they enjoy each other’s company, because they share the same interests, because they have the same outlook on life, because they fill each others’ lives in some necessary way.
Don’t misunderstand – these are good things. We were made for companionship, we were designed for fellowship. But we have to exercise wisdom here. Yes, we must engage with nonbelievers. Yes, we must build relationships with those who don’t know Christ so that through us, they can be introduced to Him. Yes, we should be friends with unbelievers. But who’s in your flock – your inner circle? Which people have the greatest influence on you? Your non-Christian friends or your Christian friends? Because it definitely matters and it definitely shows.
Birds of a feather, flock together. What do your feathers look like? Are they heavy and covered in the soot of the world? Or are they strong and radiant, reflecting the light of the Son?