I’m convinced if my friends had never approached me ten-plus years ago, I would have been content to live in a studio apartment somewhere, a total recluse, to live out my life completely solitary. But I know God had other plans for me.
In high school, my social anxiety was at an all-time high. The first couple of years, I kept to myself and my studies, going home after school to do my homework and socialize only with my family members, who I knew and trusted—except for one member.
My stepmother at the time would always be on my case as to why I “had no friends,” and no answer seemed to satisfy her. I was simply afraid to reach out and leave the comfort of my home, the only exception being to go to classes.
But all of that changed when I met the friends I have today.
If not for them taking the initiative and asking me to join them at lunch, attend their birthday parties, sit with them on the bus, etc., I don’t know where I would be. Despite our differences, we share so much and have always been there for each other. We’ve laughed, cried, and grown during the course of our decade-plus long comradery.
The biggest and most daunting difference, however, is that I’m the only Christian in my group of friends (with the exception of my husband, who I have shared my circles of friends with all this time, and who I strongly look up to in terms of faith).
I have always felt God has given my friends to me, and we are all a part of each others’ lives for a reason. That being said, I know many believers feel followers of Christ have no business being close with atheists, as their influence can rub off on them causing them to stray. It even says in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.” Admittedly, I have fallen into some less than savory habits in my time spent with some of my friends, and this warning is completely sound…but what if it could work the opposite way?
Colossians 4:5 says: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” I suppose I can call my friends “outsiders,” and I have been given time with them to be an example in Christ. While many of them remain vehemently atheist after all of this time, I have been able to get them to listen to my own testimony, in hopes to be an example of how Christ’s love and light has saved me, in the afterlife and in my life on Earth. Although I have fallen short and have been unequally yolked with them (2 Corinthians 6:14) at times by partaking in activities I know now I shouldn’t have, I know they will always be respectful of my beliefs and I have never felt belittled or pressured by them when I have declined offers to participate in acts I know in good conscience I shouldn’t.
My experience with my friends, I feel, is the opposite of what the majority of believers are concerned with regarding friendships across faith—that the wrong influence will rub off on the other. They fear befriending nonbelievers will cause followers to stray and never return. Again, these concerns are validated by a number of scriptures (1 Corinthians 5:9-13 and 2 John 1:10-11, to name a few). However, with enough determination, the relationship can be beneficial to both parties.
Matthew 5:16 says: “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” I have been told by several of my friends that my influence in their life has benefited them beyond what they could have imagined, and I have even been asked to pray for them in times of need. These moments fill my heart with joy, and when I hear these things from the people God has placed in my life, I personally feel I am on my way to fulfilling a purpose He has for me. I hope to be able to continue to bring peace to my friends in the name of Christ, and show them Christianity is more than the radicalized, “hate-filled” propaganda that spreads across social media.
It can be a treacherous road for Christians to tread into the world of worldly friendship, but if we stick strong to our conviction and meet every question and criticism with grace and understanding, the ones God intends to stay by us will remain in our lives, and perhaps we can be the ones to help bring them closer to Him.