Growing up, the vast majority of friends I made came from broken homes. Due to the nature of their environment, they were often rebellious and defiant. At ages as young as 8 years old, most of my friends had access to illegal drugs and alcohol. By the grace of God, I was too fearful to experiment in the drug use with them. But for my friends, it was a normal part of childhood.

In my early teens, I became a Christian. I was heavily involved in my youth group, and for the first time, I had made friends that were nothing like the ones I had grown up with. I finally had something to contrast an old “norm” with a new one.

Many of those friends from my youth are still my friends today. Some friends made some key decisions that veered them off the straight and narrow path. While some bounced back, others did not. I remember the helpless feeling of not knowing what to do when my friends began making bad life decisions. Here are a few things I know now that I wish I had known then.

We Have More Influence Than We Know

I had one particular friend growing up that I spent almost every day with. As we both entered our teenage years, he moved away with his parents, and I didn’t see him again for many years. One day in my freshman year of high school, he randomly showed up at my house after school. He smelled like a mixture of smoke, marijuana and alcohol. I had just started working my first job at a grocery store, and had about an hour until I needed to be at work. My friend asked if I could give him a ride to a house; deep down I didn’t want to, but I also felt concerned for him. I had seen kids on drugs, but I had never seen someone quite in his condition.

I gave in to giving him a ride. I had only had my license for about a month (if that), and as I am driving down the very busy highway, he reaches into his hoodie and pulls out a bottle of liquor. I’m barely 16, and he is younger than me. At that point, my heart was racing and I was mortified. If anything happened, I could end up in jail.

When we reached the destination, his ride was not there. So, he asked if we could drive someplace else. Long story short, we ended up at a park sitting on a table, where I was offered some of his alcohol and cigarettes. I explained to him that I did not smoke or drink, and that I had given my life to the Lord. I eventually dropped him off, and remember fighting back tears for my friend. What happened to the kid I built forts with and made bike trails in the woods with?

People Can Change

Two days later, he showed up at my house again and, to my surprise, was crying and acting very scared. Panicking, he asked, “What did you do to me? I can’t stop thinking about all the stuff you said to me! I can’t sleep!” Apparently, he was no longer able to enjoy his drugs and alcohol either. I was stunned! I simply told him that it sounded like the Lord was speaking to him. At the time, I did my best to explain to him Jesus love for him, and how his life would never be the same if he simply received that love. After that day, I didn’t see him again for a very long time.

Nearly 15 years later, I ran into him at a restaurant. He was there with a group of people from a church he was attending. He told me that he had never forgotten the things I told him years earlier. In retrospect, I had greater influence than I ever thought. We all have greater influence than we think, especially when we trust God in and through our actions of faith. He can take any mustard seed of faith and move someone’s mountain. And you never know when that might happen.

You Can Only Help People Who Want It

At other times in my life, I had friends who had always lived pretty “straight-laced” or had grown up in very sheltered/religious environments. When they were old enough to have more freedom, they began making bad decisions. I had one friend who, off and on for many years, kept making some bad decisions. On many occasions, I did my best to help him see the destructive outcome of his decisions before he made them. I had another close friend who brutally betrayed me after years of repeatedly coming to his aide.

There are some people that will not accept help. It may be people that you care deeply for and, at one time in your life, you would have done anything for. But there comes a point in time that if you have to lower the standard of who you are or jeopardize the well-being of your life to help theirs, you have exhausted your abilities to truly impact them. At that point, they have not made the most important choice – the decision to help themselves first.

The love of God can do radical things through us. The power of our prayers and positive lifestyles of faith can move many mountains. Never underestimate the power of your influence to help those close to you that may be drowning in bad decisions. But at the same time, never underestimate a close friend’s ability to pull you down with them because of their bad choices.

You may also be interested in Friend Or Foe: The Difference Between Caring & Controlling Friendships

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