I was 17 years old. I had been clean for 8 months. I hadn’t used in all that time and I was feeling pretty confident about my ability to stay clean. I was feeling stronger than I had since I started using. I was confident that the battle was over and that I would be free from now on. At least I hoped I would be.
Then, it happened, that season of my life when I fell back in with certain friends and found myself hanging out behind the school out in the field where I had started using. To them, it was just a game, but to me it was a battle. I hated what was happening to me.
In the beginning, I still felt pretty strong, like I could handle being around them, they weren’t even my close friends, just people I ran around with. I didn’t think that I would fall back into it. I thought I could handle it.
Then, in a time of difficulty, I was struggling with some emotional stress and I gave in to the pressure. Everyone else was doing it, or so it seemed. I caved. I just used once, and I realized it right away and I stopped and I thought I had it under control. But, soon, it was once or twice a week. Then, it was almost every time I was out there. I had lost complete control.
Whatever our temptations are, hanging out with the wrong crowd or the right crowd can have a huge impact on us. If you struggle with an addiction to alcohol, don’t spend time in a bar. When you struggle with an addiction to gambling, don’t go to Las Vegas. Obviously.
But, it goes beyond this.
Think about it. There is power in those relationships. There is power in the culture or the movement of people in and through our lives. Who we are with influences how well we follow through with what we want. As it turns out, our will power is affected by those around us.
The last two days, I have written about how to make real and lasting changes in our lives. If we are able to block future temptation and able to strengthen our will power "muscle", we will still struggle to make lasting change unless we change the people we spend time with.
“How blessed is the one who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand in the pathway with sinners, or sit in the assembly of scoffers!” Kind David wrote in the first line of the first song recorded in Psalms. So that’s not news, but we still need the reminder. The people we are around inevitably affect what we do.
In that true story from when I was 17, what I was talking about was the tendency I had to use foul language. It started behind our school out on the soccer field. I would get angry at an opponent for some reason or other, my temper would rise and the curses would fly. After soccer season was over in my junior year, I decided to stop cursing all together and did pretty well. I thought I had it under control. But, as soon as my senior season started, I couldn’t resist. I got frustrated, lost my temper and the cursing inevitably followed.
I never used drugs, got addicted to cigarettes or got into drinking, but the patterns are the same.
Even more benign habits are influenced by our environment. If you have the privilege like I do of having a good relationship with your parents and get to go back to the home you grew up in, your experience may be similar to mine.
I walk in the door of my parents' home and three overwhelming urges rise up in me. I am compelled to grab some snacks, put up my feet in the recliner, and watch TV. It is like I am a teenager all over again. I could happily sit there day and night stuffing my face and watching my IQ drop.
These habits can change, of course. And, I have managed to escape my parents' home on numerous occasions without losing a single brain cell.
But, it takes introspection, an awareness of our habits and weaknesses. And, we need to know how the people around us influence us.
Then, we need to make choices. Who will we hang out with? Who will be our closest friends? And what circles will we travel in? Where will we volunteer? With whom will we worship? What organizations will we join?
Each decision will influence who we associate with and those people will influence us.
If you want to lose weight and you spend time with someone who is working hard to get their finances in order. Their practice of self-control will help you with your practice of self-control.
The same is true if you are with someone who wants to quit smoking, eat better or exercise more. Talk about it together, encourage one another and don't give up.
Church can be a great place for developing those relationships. Church is designed to be a place where we surround ourselves with people who desire to love and obey God. If you desire to grow spiritually, God designed church for you to have the encouragement that you need.
Make sure that the people in your church are people that you want to influence you spiritually.
The key is not to find a church of perfect people. But, find a church of people who like you desire to grow spiritually, are honest about their sins and failings, and are willing to take risks to obey God.
Whether you choose to go to church or not, if you want to grow more self-controlled, surround yourself with people who share your desire.