Many of us, as children, were advised to choose our friends wisely. Throughout my schooling, it was common knowledge among my peers who the “trouble-makers” were. Had I begun to gravitate toward these kids, I’m sure my mother would have stepped in with some words of warning. Similar advice was given in church. I can remember viewing my friendships with “non-believers” as primarily serving the purpose of conversion. My goal was to be a good influence, in hopes that they too might accept Jesus as their savior. Whether this advice was explicit or not, I cannot say. It was certainly my understanding. While I now see missionary-friendship as problematic on many levels, the advice I was given was sound. As I reflect on my life over the past seven years, my marriage serving as the point of demarcation, I realize that the purveyors of such advice were right. As I understand it, the point of such advice was to protect me from “bad” influences. It turns out that the people we choose to spend our time with end up having a great deal of influence on us. Sometimes that influence solidifies us in our values and beliefs. Other times, much to the chagrin of my childhood authority figures, we find ourselves thinking and believing the very things they were trying to protect us from. Like much religious instruction, the source of this guidance is fear.
Growing up, most of my friends were from church-going families. The town in which I lived had, at one time, more churches per capita than any other U.S. city. The odds were in my favor. After moving to the “big city”, I was exposed to a far more diverse crowd. The evangelical mindset I moved with persisted. Living in the city provided, so I thought, many more opportunities for “sharing the gospel” than the small town I had moved from. I was in heaven, or hell rather. Just as feared, mixing with the heathens was not without its consequences. The short version of the story is that I now find myself with a worldview vastly different, in some ways, from that in which I was instructed as a child.
The ways in which my past and present worldviews do not differ are significant. As I was taught, my goal in life is to be a loving, humble, generous, and caring person, the life and teachings of Jesus being a source of inspiration and guidance in this endeavor. The primary difference is the manner in which I hold my worldview. Before, I held my beliefs in a closed hand, fists clenched tightly. As clenching tightly will do, this stressed me out. As far as I knew, there was a single right way for me to live my life, and I was going to figure it out.
I am fairly confident in saying that my departure from a fundamentalist understanding of reality has been the single most beneficial change I have ever undergone. Becoming somewhat comfortable with the infinitely complex, mysterious nature of the world, god, the universe, and reality, has been so much more rewarding. I have finally succeeded in my quest for an answer to every question: most often it is “I don’t know.”
To repeat the advice I was given, choose your friends wisely. If you’d like to maintain your worldview, values, and beliefs, stay away from people who don’t share them.
Bailey Patrice & Jonathan David