Peer Pressure

photo by Carin Davis


The master answered, "You did well. You are a good and loyal servant. Because you were loyal with small things, I will let you care for much greater things. Come and share my joy with me."

- Matthew 25:21 


My cousin graduated from high school last week, and the pastor at her baccalaureate service said something I'm sure I've heard before. I'm sure it's been whispered to me by my mother in moments of frustration, sure I may have been offered the same advice and instruction at my own high school graduation eight years ago. But somehow, I have forgotten it, and the words which may have fallen on the deaf ears of a crowd of high school students fell perfectly into my own listening ones.

Peer pressure doesn't end after high school.

That's it. That's the big resounding truth that I've been turning over in my head this week, the thought that surfaced to the top as I reached for any idea suitable for this month's post.

I've been struggling lately. I think that's normal; I hear your 20s are all about self-discovery, about figuring out who you are and where you want to be. I was relatively prepared for this. I was ready to ask myself questions and mull over answers and start making changes. What I didn't expect was the backlash I'd receive from peers, the frustration those I love would exhibit when I decided to step back a little, when the answers I gave and the discoveries I made led to changes, big and small.

Peer pressure doesn't end after high school, and it doesn't stop just because you're sitting in a Bible class.

It's not about drugs or alcohol or sex anymore. I think that's what so scary, so different, about peer pressure in adulthood. Now it's subtle, and the messages are mixed, and it's hard to tell what's black or white or gray, what's good or bad or somewhere down the middle.

Now it's about how you spend your time and where you spend your money. It's about how you raise your children and what makes a vibrant, grace-filled marriage. It's about choosing what is excellent over what is good. It's about saying no so you can say yes. It's about setting boundaries and keeping your mouth shut and deciding to live a simple life when everyone else around you is staring at you like you have two heads.

I know this won't end. I know, because I've watched my mother and my aunts and countless mentors and friends cross these roads before me.

When I was a little girl, my parents chose to send me to Christian school. Not because they thought they were better, not because public school wasn't good enough, but because that's where they, as my parents, believed I would receive the best, most well-rounded education for me. It was a personal, private decision made by the two people in this life who knew me best. It was a decision based on prayer and personal finance and their little one's personality.

I am so very glad they made that decision -- a topic, perhaps, for another post at another time -- but you know what? It came with consequences.

My parents were questioned by well-meaning peers and friends. They were asked about test scores and gifted programs and curriculum. Often, I was teased for being sheltered and over-protected, something that cut me deeply, and looking back, I'm sure it hurt my parents too.

That was peer pressure, and it was painful, often because it was delivered by brothers and sisters in Christ.

Peer pressure looms after us no matter how old we are, and despite the warnings we deliver to our teenagers and our children, I think it's because we still care so very deeply what other people think.

We encourage our young ones to be strong and independent and bold and brave, but then we grow up, and we shrink. We're scared of authenticity and vulnerability. We're afraid of what might happen if we look different, if our house is smaller, if our wallets aren't as full. We don't want to step on toes or appear judgmental. We don't want to miss out.

We want to read what everybody else is reading and watch what everybody else is watching. We want to fill our homes with projects we saw on Pinterest and knick-knacks we picked up at Target. We want to be on Facebook and Twitter and blogs. We want our calendars to overflow with trips and plans and parties and dinners out with friends.

We want to be loved.

Deep down, more than anything else, we want to be loved and honored and respected. We want to be understood.

I think that's what peer pressure boils down to, whether you're 18 or 28 or 48.

We make unpopular decisions, and we look to the left and to the right for just one supporter. We just want someone out there to get us.

Oh, but He does.

I don't know why that's so hard for me to remember, when there are songs and t-shirts and praise teams and pastors telling me I serve an audience of one.

I don't know why when I make a decision, it's His opinion that matters most, yet it's the one I most often seek last.

I don't know why when I feel lost and alone and lonely and misunderstood, I forget that He understands. He has been there. He has been pressured and tried and misheard and abused and alone. He knows.

I am not alone.

These decisions I make, the ones that feel like I'm alienating my peers and setting me apart?

If they are done in grace and in love and in prayer, they will be understood. If not by my peers, by the Father.

When it's all said and done, His is the only voice I need to hear.

---

You looked into my life and never stopped
And you're thinking all my thoughts
Are so simple, but so beautiful
And you recite my words right back to me
Before I even speak You let me know 
I am understood.

"I Am Understood," Relient K lyrics by Matthew Thiessen


5 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness this is so true! Thank you for opening your heart and sharing this. I confess, I really want to be liked and I have to take a step back and ask whether I crave approval because I want people to know God through me, or whether I want people to love me because I can be funny, creative, or have the best behaved kids. Much to think about...

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  2. So very wise and so true.
    Thank you for sharing this.
    Love from,
    Greta

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  3. I love this because I was just talking to some friends about how when I was in high school saying "no" to the "in-crowd" was so easy for me. I had no problem being my own person or carving my own path. It's only in my mid-thirties that I find myself struggling with this problem - this problem I never though would affect ME. And yet, it's an almost daily issue. Thanks for speaking to my heart on this and reminding me that while I've grown wiser in the last 20 years, there was a wisdom in that 15 year old girl who wasn't afraid to go against the grain.

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