Growing up whenever I wanted to go to a friends house or have a sleep over my mom always wanted to meet whomever it was that I was spending my time with. At the time, I didn’t understand it. Parents are always talking about who you’re hanging with and being around kids that are a good influence etc. but as a kid we really just think it’s nonsense. We don’t understand the magnitude of what they’re trying to teach us. I was always, always bringing home “friends” and my mom would say to me “everyone is not your friend.” I didn’t understand this either at the time but I am grateful she let me learn this lesson on my own. Had she tried to insert herself into every area and every relationship that I had I am not sure the lessons would have been as meaningful or as powerful as they were.
As I look back on some of my life experiences, I can now tie the words my mom said to me and the importance of what she was saying to the personal experiences that I had. When I was in high school I had friends who were going through pretty serious experiences. I had friends who were pregnant and had miscarriages. I had friends who had abortions. I had friends who drank alcohol (sometimes while at school) and friends who smoked weed. I never judged them. They were people I loved and enjoyed spending time with. Amazingly enough, I didn’t fall privy to those influences because one, I was terrified of my mom and two, I saw the emotional and mental turmoil it was having on them. It helped me be more aware of some of the decisions I was making. But no one is perfect, and certainly not me! After graduating high school I started falling into some of the influences around me. Partly because I got tired of following the rules all of the time. If you’re anything like me and you’ve always followed the rules and done what you were told there comes a point in time where you start feeling the need to push against those boundaries. Although I still lived with my parents after I graduated, I worked a full time job and paid for my own car/car insurance so I felt like I was independent and, well, grown. I wanted to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it! I went out to the club. I stayed out past the time my parents wanted me to stay out. I drank, yes at 18 years old I had myself a few experiences with alcohol. It was easy for me to stay in this lane and make these decisions because the people I was connected with were making the same decisions. When you’re with people who think like you and who are exhibiting the same behavior as you, whether it be good or bad, it’s easier for you to continue that behavior. You feel like you belong and it can also feel right. Like the perfect fit for whatever journey you are on at the time.
I can also recall a time in my life where I had really strong relationship with some married friends of mine. I recall us having conversations about cheating and why men cheat and if we should do the same to get back at them. I remember the conversations focusing on giving them a dose of their own medicine or thinking “If they can do it, why can’t we?” type thinking. I remember being so strongly opposed to this thought process because one, at the time my husband was the only person I had ever been sexually active with and two, morally I just thought well that’s a no. I remember thinking ok this conversation is insane. But life has a funny way of bringing you full circle into moments that what you once stood so firmly on before has now been skewed and you’re not sure if you still feel that way and even if you do, in the moment, you don’t care. While my husband and I were separated, I found myself in relationships that weren’t appropriate and did not represent the values I once held myself to. I used the excuse of him having happily moved on and the hurt and pain that caused me to justify my actions. We were separated, true, but I was still married and the decisions I was making were decisions I used to frown upon and were firmly against. But once again, I was surrounded by people who were making the same decisions further confirming my choices which made me feel free. For that moment in time I didn’t really care about the consequences of my decisions or really who those decisions affected.
Lastly, I think on the time frame in my life when I was desperate for change; a time when I knew that I needed to make better decisions. I felt like I was at rock bottom and I needed something different. I really needed a new perspective. I love the saying that you have to try something different to achieve different results. I grew up in church, but I didn’t know Jesus the way I know him now. So when I started really getting serious and committing myself to the process of change it required me to do more than just start making different decisions. It also required me to connect myself with people who understood where I was at and where I was trying to go. I had to start talking to, connecting with, and listening to people who had been where I was trying to go and who’s purpose was to see me reach my goal. Just as I found myself in situations in the past with people who influenced my habits of drinking and partying as a young woman, or seeking love and attention in relationships that weren’t for me while dealing with a broken marriage, I now found myself in a situation where people were influencing me to look at the good in me. These new connections were helping me move through my brokenness and pushing me to lean into my future, which was bright. Not that the past relationships didn’t encourage me to learn more about myself. If it weren’t for those past experiences there are so many things that I would have never learned. I learned that drinking and partying is fun but it’s not the only type of fun and honestly the after affects weren’t worth it. There were so many other things I could have been doing with my time. I learned that sex and inappropriate relationships felt good at the time but they were not the answer to the pain I was feeling. I had to learn to face what I was feeling and move past the things I was struggling with. I learned it’s ok to struggle. There’s a lesson attached to that struggle. I needed to heal.
The people we surround ourselves with serve a purpose. At times we can look at certain relationships and see the bad, the ugly, the not so good things instead of the positive or the lessons learned. In each phase, the people around me were not the reasons I made the decisions I made. I cannot fault them. They had their own reasons and their own issues that they were learning to work through. I made the choices I made but I also allowed their thoughts, their emotions, their influence to guide me. This is why it’s said it’s important who you surround yourself with. This is why it was important to my parents and if you’re a parent it’s important to you too, who you choose to have in your life and in the lives of your children. While the relationships I had during the different phases couldn’t make me make better choices, according to who I was around could have helped me look at the bigger picture to include the consequences for my actions; the emotional and mental consequences that caused me to live in a place of bondage and condemnation. Moving into relationships that influenced me to trust God, to think outside the box, think about the future, focus on the life I wanted and deserved for myself and my kids helped pushed me onto another level of life. Being connected to the right source can and will push you into growth.
Look at those around you and the situations you are in and start thinking about where you want to be, where you want to go, who you want to be. Do those connections line up with those thoughts? Are they influencing you to try something different so that you can get different results or are they lulling you into a position of complacency or acceptance of the bad decisions and circumstances? Are you being influenced to grow into a better version of yourself? Are you being influenced to think of others more than thinking of yourself? Are you being encouraged to love yourself and to go after your dreams or are you being influenced to stay in the same place, repeating the same mistakes never breaking the cycle? Are you being influenced to seek God, trust God, listen to God, depend on God or are you being told that you can only rely on yourself or those around you? Are you being convinced that it’s you and only you that can make things happen not God or an amazing support team to help push you? Who’s influencing you? Who’s pushing you? Who’s blessing you with knowledge and wisdom and the ability to choose growth? Who’s doing the opposite? Once again, every relationship and connection serves a purpose but it’s up to us to discern and discover what those relationships and connections unlock in us. Are they unlocking potential and the keys to your future or keeping you locked up in the same place with the same cycle and the same results? You cannot achieve something different, feel something different, learn something new without making changes to your environment and mental thought process. Change is up to you and sometimes that change comes at the decision to move the chess pieces on the board to new positions with new influences.