Peer Pressure Resisted
Pressures from peers don't disappear the minute we graduate from high school or college. As we enter the business world, we may even find that we face pressures from bosses or colleagues that would try to make us compromise our integrity or make us neglect our duties. Jesus' disciples were even tempted. How do we make sure that we don't succumb to peer pressure?
Teenagers Sarah Matusek and Sean McMahon provide insightful steps and stories about how to resist peer pressure.
We've all felt the unsettled feeling of being challenged by our peers to do something we don't want to do. Whether we're faced by a life-threatening decision or a split-second dare, everyone wants to know if we're capable, or cool enough, or brave enough to do it.
Characters in the Bible faced such pressures, too. In the book of Daniel, a group of princes basically dare Daniel to pray to his own God when they have the king sign a decree that if anyone prays to any man or God except for the king, he'll be thrown into a den of lions. Daniel knows the punishment for disobeying the decree. However, Daniel trusts his God and continues to pray to Him, despite the criticism and consequences. This deep understanding of, faith in, and love for his God later saves him in the lions' den (Dan. 6).
Like Daniel, we can resist peer pressure. Whenever we are tempted to do what we think will satisfy our peers' image of us, let's think about God's image of us. Here are three simple steps we can take to guard ourselves against the pressures and temptations from peers.
- Turn insecurity into purity
Giving into peer pressure indicates a sense of insecurity. One thought-provoking definition of "insecurity" is "not adequately guarded or sustained . . . not firmly fastened or fixed" (Webster). The idea of being fastened to or sustained by something (God) can be traced back to the Bible. Jesus said, "I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: . . . and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock" (Matt. 8:24). Don't we want a strong, stable character? Of course! -- one that cannot be swayed by popular human opinion, one that cannot fall down (or give in) when peers pressure us! We want to be like a sturdy house that is untouched by strong winds, or temptations. This means that we have to understand God and our relationship with Him so that our identity cannot be shaken by anything, including peer pressure.
- Know you are "enough."
"I AM THAT I AM" (Ex. 3:14) is what we find God preaching to Moses … and to us. Because God is, we are. I AM is enough. Good news -- we are enough too! We know this because we are His creation, His "image" and "likeness" (Gen. 1:26). With the abundance of qualities which God, I AM, spiritually girds us with each day, we have enough courage, wisdom, and strength to resist any shallow human urge from within (ourselves) or from without (our peers) to prove something. We already know who we are and what we are capable of doing and being as God's beloved image and likeness.
- Love your neighbor.
Loving our neighbors actually helps defeat peer pressure. The people who often try to pressure us are probably feeling insecure about themselves as well. Why else would they dare us into doing something uncomfortable or dangerous? They are undoubtedly trapped in the assumption that they need to feel superior. But we can see that while they may be caught up in doing something wrong to make themselves feel better, they are really searching for love. So, let's love them where they're at. We may even find that our expression of humility and love will become mutual.
Whenever we're tempted to submit to peer pressure so we can feel secure, let's:
- Replace insecurity with purity (build a strong foundation with God);
- Recognize our completeness (know that because God is enough, we are enough);
- Love our peers (which requires that we love God and ourselves).
We can follow Daniel's example, know who we are, and stand firm in our trust in God. What a freeing feeling it is to know that we are strong, and so is our identity!
– Sarah Matusek
Sarah's three steps give us prayerful and practical ways to defeat peer pressure. Let's think more about what she said. Our understanding of and relationship to God determines our relationships with others. Jesus explained this when he answered the lawyer's question about which was the greatest commandment:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Matt. 22:37-39)
- we're not clear about how much God loves us, or
- we think that we're not really worthy, or
- we feel alone and ignored, or we think
- we need to do things that compromise our integrity to fit in, or
- we don't seem to know who we are…
it seems hard to remember that we really can never be separated from God, that we can never lose our identity as God's beloved child.
We read in the Bible:
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure…. (I John 3:2, 3)
The more we understand that we're the pure children of God "now," and don't have to wait to become God's pure child, the more confident we'll feel in our God-given identity. Such an understanding allows us to banish "insecurity" and welcome "purity," as Sarah tells us to do. And we'll discover, as Sean's article points out, that our identities cannot be shaken as we ground ourselves in God's love, which enables us to love ourselves and others more.
Peer pressure and temptation are problems that plague every teenager: how others think of us, if we are respected, if people like us, if we're cool or un-cool, "in" or "out," have a nice body, or basically anything else the teenage mind can conjure up. All these thoughts bite at the teenage mind, provoking us to try and make ourselves physically better or more socially acceptable. Temptations try to convince us that we need satisfaction from another person and try to make us unhappy with what God has given us.
A friend of mine wasn't happy with who he was. He was never very social and always had trouble making friends. He constantly tried to impress people, doing things others would not even dream of trying, thinking that if he acted cool, they might begin to accept him. But it never worked; it just made the other students talk behind his back and gossip about him even more than they already did. All the "effort" that he put into trying to make himself feel accepted never once helped him. He came to realize this and stopped trying so hard to fit in. Now, he is just being himself, and people have started to treat him the way he deserves to be treated.
It's so important to know who we are, to root ourselves in God. Jesus' parable of the sower and the seed teaches us a lesson about this. Jesus explains to his disciples:
Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away…. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. (Luke 8:12, 13, 15)
Those who try to make a bare rock their foundation have no place to ground their faith, no place to gain a deep grip in the soil of God's empire, so they yield to peer pressure. On the other hand, the people who have a firm foundation will be the ones who receive angel messages from God. So, when evil tries to steal away their faith, their faith in God cannot be stolen.
And evil will try to steel away our faith, will try to tempt us, especially when we have a strong faith in God. When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, he left his disciples, asking them to "tarry" and "watch" while he went to pray (Matt. 26:38). When he returned, they were asleep, so he said to them, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matt. 26:41). Jesus was trying to tell his disciples that they should not let temptation take hold of them; they should not succumb, even though the body may want to succumb. He just wanted them to do a simple task -- sit, watch, and pray while he had a little chat with God. But they were not able to do that; they could not resist the temptation to sleep (when at that time they really needed to pray). Jesus was concerned because this showed that they might not be able to shrug off other temptations if they could not simply stay awake at a time when their prayers were most needed, both for Jesus and themselves.
The disciples probably felt pretty bad and learned a lesson from this; they ended up being very strong individuals. My friend also learned from his experience. I, too, have had past troubles with peer pressure -- some that I have succumbed to and others that I stood up to. When I was going to a private Christian school, I was the only all-white student. Being a definite minority, the majority of the students put me down and tried to pressure me to do mean things to the teacher because they knew I could get away with it since I was one of her favorite students. She treated me differently than she treated the other students. Although I desperately wanted to fit in and please my peers, I knew that even if I could get away with shoving her down onto the floor and kicking her (which is what one of the other students did), I knew I wasn't that kind of person. I just couldn't, and wouldn't, give in and do what the others were telling me to do. As a result, I never really was accepted there. But I knew that doing the right thing and getting a good education was more important than fitting in socially. I always stuck with that truth whenever other students told me to do something unjust. Because I was grounded in God, I was able to stand up to peer pressure.
Even though it may be very difficult, we should never succumb to temptation and peer pressure because the people we are being pressured into becoming are not who we truly are. Peer pressure tries to make us stop seeing ourselves as the children of God; it makes us see ourselves as beings that can be altered by human opinions, which really don't matter anyway. The only opinion that truly matters is God's.