Tackling peer pressure—with prayer
Q: How can I pray about peer pressure?
A: One of the toughest things about dealing with peer pressure is that it seems like you don’t have many options. Either you give in and let other people control your life, or you say no and feel excluded. So the very fact that you know that you can pray about this issue is really helpful. As I’ve seen in my own life, prayer can open us up to solutions to peer pressure that actually bless everyone.
In college, I had a fun group of friends that I hung out with. While we enjoyed doing lots of things together, sometimes the conversation turned to the subject of girls—and not in a complimentary way. Judging the way they looked, making fun of their friends—all topics and conversation I was extremely uncomfortable with.
These guys were good friends and did have good qualities, but I hated the way our conversation could so easily slip into this trashy talk. And while I did have other friends, I didn’t have another group like this where I could just sit down and hang out. So I was nervous to say anything about my discomfort, because I didn’t want to lose this group.
But I also knew these frequent conversations were wrong.
In retrospect, I can see that my biggest fear was that if I spoke up about these conversations, I would be judged—seen as weak or unworthy of friendship. But operating from that standpoint put my sense of self-worth in the hands of others. And one problem with that is that people’s opinions change all the time.
My biggest fear was that if I spoke up, I would be judged—seen as weak or unworthy of friendship.
I wanted something more solid, a more secure foundation, for my sense of self-worth. While I didn’t stop valuing these friendships, I did start to pray to get a better, more spiritual, sense of myself. As I did this, I remembered a passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept.” It continues: “Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16, Eugene Peterson, The Message).
I got it. My worth wasn’t variable. My “light” was shining not because of what others thought about me, but because of the way God created me. God was the One who loved me! God was the One who “judged” me and declared what I was!
It felt a lot better to know that my identity and worth were completely safe in God. But I still didn’t know what to do during those conversations. It didn’t feel right to cut this set of friends out of my life, but I continued to feel uncomfortable with the idea of speaking up. So I kept praying.
One day it occurred to me that I could just leave the conversation whenever this topic came up. Not in a way that made a scene. It simply felt natural to slip away when the trash talking began.
At first, there was no change in the conversation; as I left, I could hear my friends still talking and laughing. But by the third or fourth time, they started to notice, and finally they asked me why I was leaving. I matter-of-factly said that I didn’t like being part of the conversation when they started talking about girls that way.
“Why didn’t you say so?” they asked—and immediately switched to another topic.
There was never another conversation along those lines when I was present. From then on, we always talked about all the good things going on.
My worth wasn’t variable. My “light” was shining not because of what others thought about me, but because of the way God created me.
Of course, I don’t have a clue what they talked about when I wasn’t around, and it wasn’t my job to police my friends. And, thinking back on this today, it’s hard not to wish that I had been more courageous in speaking out against this inappropriate behavior. But for where I was at that time in my life, I was grateful for the gentleness of that divinely inspired solution. As it turned out, “letting my light shine” wasn’t about making others feel “burned”; it was simply about showing another way to think about things. And that other way blessed all of us—lifting us into more constructive conversations and lifting me out of the trap of peer pressure.
As I’ve continued to think about this experience, Mary Baker Eddy’s words in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures have helped me gain even more clarity about how we can pray our way effectively through peer pressure. She writes, “Where shall the gaze rest but in the unsearchable realm of Mind? We must look where we would walk, and we must act as possessing all power from Him in whom we have our being” (p. 264).
As we keep our mental gaze on the One who truly loves us, we’re able to walk forward without needing to look for approval in misguided human opinion. We find ourselves with a deeper, more spiritual sense of security and worth, and a reliable compass for our actions. And as we follow this compass, we’re able to be a blessing for others as well. Instead of being victimized by peer pressure, we can show how good it is to live as God made us: already whole and loved.