Do “good” Christians help you avoid temptation?

I’m 21, a Southern Baptist raised, but with an open heart. I was “saved” in 4th grade, baptized in 6th. Yet . . .  I’ve been a lukewarm Christian most of my life. Good kid, good grades, didn’t use any drugs or alcohol till I was 16/17. Nor did I have a strong relationship with God.

Fast forward: failed out of my freshman year at Alabama, then lived as a prodigal son in my parents’ home; moved out, then had a road to Damascus moment and started devoting my life to Christ again.

My problem is that I have a very hard time connecting with Christians, or finding a group of Christians I can relate with and enjoy. I have a lot of Christian friends, some who truly follow Christ, but most don’t. But I can’t seem to relate or have any connection with the truly devote ones: the only thing I truly have in common with most of them is Christ. I’ve made a few attempts to hang with them outside of church, but it feels like I’m trying to hang out with them because I have to, or because it’s the right thing, instead of because I want to.

The reason I’m stressing this so much is that I’ve been struggling with going back to my old ways of drinking and stuff again and don’t want to go back to that.

So my question is: Do you think you have to be with Christians that you don’t necessarily have anything in common with besides Christ in order to stay out of temptation’s way? It would seem the answer is yes, obviously; I know that it’s true. I guess i just need to grow a pair and just live for Christ no matter what.

So first of all there’s no such thing as staying out of temptation’s way. It’s like trying to stay out of the way of air: you can’t, because it’s everywhere. The desire to waste oneself via physical indulgence isn’t a problem with what’s outside in the world. It’s a problem with what’s inside each and every one of us. Everyone is seriously prone to damaging excess, and everyone struggles against it their entire lives. You will, too. It sucks. But, alas, it’s part of being human. (And later we can, and, duh, really should, talk about this.)

Secondly, no, you don’t have to hang out with anyone with whom you’re not comfortable hanging out. If you don’t enjoy hanging out with someone, there’s a really valid reason for that. Pay attention to that reason. Respect it. It’s trying to tell you something about those people that you’d be a fool to ignore.

Mostly it’s trying to tell you to go find someone you do enjoy being with. Do that! Life’s too short to spend it with people you don’t love being with.

You’ve got a deeper problem, though, than just not liking the people you feel you should. That’s really just a distraction for you. Your real problem is that you don’t know who you are. And that’s cool. You’re young. Young people never know who they are; they haven’t had time yet for life to prove to them who they are.

You’re just stuck in that weird “I’m not a kid anymore; I know shit now; but I have no idea who I am or what I’m doing” phase of life. When I was there I got high, a lot. Didn’t help. Made it worse. Don’t recommend.

I’ll tell you one thing: you need to get your ass back to college. Fail to do that and I guarantee that within a year your life will have narrowed down so fast you’ll think you fell into quicksand. The world is brutal to people without an education. Without a piece of paper signed by a Big Deal Institution attesting to the fact that you’re smart and know how to think (whether you are or do or not), you’re fully hosed. Without a degree all you can do is get some scratch-ass job you’ll hate but be stuck in.

And that’s not even the real reason to go to college. The real reason is that you don’t know who you are. And a lot of that is because you don’t know what your options in life are. Well, college gives you those options. College is the whole world handed to you for your perusal and enjoyment; it offers you nothing but choices you can choose about what you like, what you find interesting, what moves your spirit and mind. It not just encourages you to become the best you you can be, it sort of makes you the best you you can be. It offers you templates you can fill in with yourself.

Just trust me: Go to college. And take it seriously. Make that what you do for the next huge chunk of your life. Beg your parents to pay for you to return to school. If they won’t, beg them some more. And keep begging them until they relent. If they simply can’t afford it, then make it happen some other way. But go.

If you return to college you have a chance in life. If you don’t, then . . . then you make of yourself a horse it’s hard to bet on. Then you will drink yourself into nowhere, because nothing else will seem as appealing to you. That’ll be your best option.

(Btw: in my absolute arrogance, stubbornness, and full-on anti-everythingness I sure as hell didn’t go to college once I was released from high-school. Which is how I found myself at 38 years old making $11.00 an hour pushing around a mail cart and cleaning the kitchen in a law office. Not. Good. Go to college! Without it your mind only knows what you bring it, and . . . you can only learn so much watching TV and playing video games. Again: trust me on this. An uneducated person is too much like a mouse stuck in a maze. You want something better; and if you don’t now, you sure will later. Promise.)

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  • Kristi Outler Byrd

    Great advice. Per usual.

    John, you mention the drive towards excess and how ALL of us struggle with this. Struggling with temptation and our own desires is inherent in being a human being but for some reason we like to pretend it isn’t. I think in the Christian community this propensity to deny our inner shit is especially strong. Gotta put on that “good Christian” mask, you know? I really, really hope you write more about this!!!!

  • vj

    See, responses like *this* are precisely why you so richly earned your ordination! Such compassionate and wise advice (and funny, never forget the funny). 🙂

    I would only add: if this young man is struggling with a desire to consume alcohol, and he feels that he is unable to moderate his intake, he might find it more helpful to find a local 12-step program than expecting his social circle to understand how to help him. (Of course, it might be that he thinks he’s not supposed to consume alcohol at all if he’s a Christian – which is a whole other problem…).

  • jesse

    That’s a topic i’d REALLY like to see John address at some point – how the dichotomy came about between Jesus turning water into wine and the “ZOMG! REAL Christians don’t DRINK!!!” mindset. i have seen some seriously jacked up “explanations” for how the wine supposedly wasn’t “alcoholic wine”, for example. There are some wild gorram interpretations out there, that’s for sure!

  • N

    Great advice.

    And I will add, on the friend front, especially as a non-Christian, that no, you don’t have to hang out with Christians to stay away from temptation! Any good friend you have (and while friends are good in general, be wise in who you bring close, but that’s a lesson learned by time), you should be able to talk to them honestly about what you’re going through, and they should have your back. Christian or not.

  • Allie

    I think maybe your Christians are the wrong kind of Christians for you to hang out with. It’s been my experience that I find wonderful friends and fall madly in friendship with them, stay up all night talking about our dreams, take on a project together and change the world, and then once we get to know each other intimately enough to discuss it, someone says, “Hey, you know, you wouldn’t think it about me, but I’m a Christian. Like, a lot.” And it turns out everyone in the room has the same kind of passionate inner spiritual life. After several instances, I’ve gotten pretty good at seeing this coming, so now I can usually respond, “Actually, I guessed that about you already.”

    If you’re leading the right sort of life, you will bump into those people.

    But I don’t think that’s necessarily the question you’re asking. I’m hearing your real question as “Is it okay to hang around people who drink (and take drugs) to excess when I’m trying to avoid drinking to excess?” And I think you know the answer to that. No, you can’t hang around people who drink as their primary outlet for fun if you had a drinking problem. You have to find other ways of having fun. This is going to be difficult for you. You enjoy drinking or you wouldn’t have ended up in trouble in the first place.

    But the alternative is not hanging around Christians doing whatever it is the Christians you’re hanging around with do. There are people who aren’t even Christians who don’t drink! Find some of them and try their hobbies.

  • Allie

    Yeah, I’ve never understood how people justify saying the wine of Biblical times wasn’t alcoholic, when the host specifically says that the people at the wedding are already so drunk that the good wine Jesus made will be wasted on them.

  • John, I almost always think your advice is spot-on, but I’m struggling with this response. I have a family member who tried attending college but failed out because he never attended his classes. It turned out he has some serious mental health issues that sent him into a downward spiral. And yet certain other family members are downplaying his need to get professional help and instead think the #1 goal should be to get him back to college. I definitely think there are many good things to be said about college, but I worry about promoting it as the end-all be-all. It sounds like the writer believes that all he needs to avoid drinking and drugs is to hang out with the right people; then it sounds like you’re saying all he needs is to go to college. Perhaps that’s the case, but I also think a good counselor/therapist might be a better first step for anyone who feels that lost.

  • Brennerlou

    Just one added work about continuing your education… If the more purely academic form of study doesn’t suit you, then by all means consider a trade. And if you decide to go the trade route, then GET YOUR TICKET. We need well-trained, proficient tradespeople! As my lawyer brother-in-law often says, he has needed his electrician more often than his electrician has needed him. =)

  • mike moore

    Great advice, John, especially about going to college.

    To the letter writer, if you could get into Alabama, there are still plenty of doors that will open for you, academically. Let us know if you need ideas or resources. Have you talked with UofA about returning there?

    I also want to pose a question for you to consider about “drinking and stuff.” Are you concerned with the negative effect on your life (i.e., is that the reason you didn’t make it at Alabama?), or are you concerned about breaking with the religious dogma under which you were raised?

    I ask because, years ago, a Southern Baptist friend confessed to me that she had a “drinking problem” and needed help. She told me how, “I drink in secret, which is a sign of alcoholism.” I asked for more details, and she told how she had been going out on Friday nights after work, every week or two, with co-workers, and having one, or sometimes even two, margaritas. She talked about how much fun she’d have and how she loved margaritas! (Note: everyone took the subways or taxis, so driving was not an issue.)

    My friend had been so indoctrinated into the evils of alcohol that she had convinced herself she was an alcoholic. She wasn’t. And now we laugh about it … usually over cocktails.

    I read your letter, and you sound like a good guy who doesn’t fit or belong within the narrow confines of the Southern Baptist beliefs.

    Once you’ve enrolled in college, you’ll find all kinds of people whom, I bet, you will love hanging with, as well as finding a church that is a better fit for you.

    (PS – I wouldn’t worry so much about living “for” Christ. Maybe focus on living “like” Christ, who tended to hang out with a fairly seedy crowd.)

  • textjunkie

    Not sure what “going back to the old ways of drinking” etc. refers to, but it seems like the letter writer has set up the either/or option–either they hang out with “devout” Christians and thus stay away from temptation, or they hang out with folks they are actually friends with, but risk sliding back into whatever the old ways were.

    This is not an either/or situation. There are other options. Besides the “get ye to college” advice, a little spiritual mentoring would might help–there’s nothing like having an older, wiser person who’s been down your road and can give you good advice, help you figure out ways to handle temptation, etc. You don’t need to hang out solely with the “holier than thou” folks. But you don’t want to go completely on your own, either–it’s like having a spiritual therapist. Might be worth looking into?

  • Tim

    Good one, Mike. I had to give up the same hang up, but to hang out with people who drink (I can’t for medical reasons). I can only imagine the guilt trip was something like the reverse of my holier-than-thou attitude.

    That being said, if this kid was under 21, that would be serious legal issues.

  • Tim

    Letter Writer,

    Some of my best friends are Christians, some are athiests, one is a Buddhist, one is a Muslim. But you know what, they are good people. That is my first point. Find people where the one-on-one aspect isn’t forced, where you share something interesting and enough different to have an openness and to learn. I’m a hard-left Democrat, gay, Christian and probably a lifelong bachelor who has learned the most from my straight, politically moderate, atheist, beat-himself-up-over-being-single-while-calling-himself-a-slut, best friend (and have taught him a lot about the reasons for political principle, how to let loose without beer, about why people might believe in God, and to not think of himself, even jokingly, in certain ways).

    I want to tip my hat to the thought you might have an issue somewhere. By all means ask someone rational who would know, or ask God. No, drinking once a week with buds at the bar isn’t a problem, it is probably the second-healthiest thing after exercise for a single guy. Yes, if you do have a drinking problem you need AA. Speak with Alabama about why you failed out, and the learn from it, perhaps by going to a different school in the Midwest, West or Northeast where the atmosphere will be same-but-different. Spread your wings a bit.

  • If drinking has been a problem in the past, go hang out with an AA group. There are lots of different groups so there’s bound to be one you click with (they don’t get upset if you try a few meetings and move on; the program is there to help you, not for you to help the program which I think sums up everything you need to know about the difference between AA and most churches)

  • Jill H

    Exactly, sometimes those of us raised in a certain direction or mindset will find ourselves adrift, confused, yes even scared (if we admit to ourselves) at a point in our lives on just how to create a life that is fulfilling AND fulfills our promises we’ve made to God.

    It takes courage to face those fears and trust that we can be guided while finding our way. And it doesn’t require guilting yourself into being “an upstanding Christian” and sucking it up, because then it’s pretty much guaranteed those temptations you’re trying to avoid will dog at your heels. What we resist seems to persist anyway.

    Let’s face it: there are bad examples of human beings in ANY belief system, just like there are great examples. You find the great ones of any faith (or no faith at all) by connecting yourself with the greatness inside you and then *meeting new people*. Begin to find the Christ inside new people you haven’t had the pleasure of knowing yet, and allow them to surprise you.

    And college, counseling, spiritual guidance– the more of these you include in your life, the more opportunities, wonderful people, learning, growing, and *belief in yourself* will show up in your life.

  • Drew Meyer

    HI !

    Its me again! Mr Letterwritter, please let me echo John about college/trade school/education: DO IT! Or you will find yourself in my shoes: late forties; scuzzy job; and soon to be $40K in debt to pay for my school. You will never regret schooling because you will find yourself. Once you find yourself, then love yourself-temptations and all! Finally, go for what you love, because all the money in the world or even the lack of it cannot bring joy. The world needs joyful Christians….they are a rare bunch!

  • mike moore

    “belief in yourself.” I really like that.

  • vj

    I think it stems from people wanting to live righteously, but by doing it in their own strength (‘flesh’), instead of trusting in the grace of God (‘Spirit’). I heard a very interesting sermon recently, which pointed out that when we try to overcome sin in the flesh, we can fall into the trap of living by certain rules that help us – and then, because these rules help *us*, we think that *everyone* has to live by exactly the same rules in order to not sin. So, because some people are helped by abstaining completely from alcohol, it becomes a rule that everyone must abstain – rather than allowing each person the freedom to live according to the Spirit. Those who really shouldn’t drink are, of course, still free to live by the rule of abstinence…

    The former leader of the family of churches to which my church relates was an alcoholic when he found Christ. On several occasions I heard him say that he wished he could ban everyone from alcohol, because he knew how damaging it could become, but he could find no Scriptural basis for such a ban, and he refused to impose his own rules on others.

  • Good advice.

  • NR

    I’m 43, didn’t go to college, because I thought that “worldly” education (as opposed to spritual education) was unimportant. I am stuck in a low-paying job, and am basically supported by my partner. I don’t exactly “know who I am .” I sometimes regret not going to college, because I feel that my life might be different and I might be happier. But on the other hand, I really do know that I don’t like school. Not against education, but don’t like school. I do feel that I missed out much in life without having the university/college experience. At the time, I said that it was too expensive, especially when I considered that everything I was interested in was very impractable in terms of earning a living. I always said that I was interested in “living a living.” I have had an interesting life, that I don’t regret, but I feel that I might be more focused, and would have better debating skills and social skills if I had gone to college.

  • Jennifer

    A lot of colleges have excellent counseling services in the student health centers located at most campuses. I know quite a few people who dialed back their classes and received help for mental health issues. In most cases, they felt free to get help as it was separate from family influences. The student goes without discussing it with insurance policy holders and only slows down college plans.

    I wouldn’t suggest a student should push classes while dealing with mental issues. The student and the counselor can figure it out. The usual requirment is to take a certain number of credits to qualify for student services, but that could be more enjoyable elective classes or get a manageable requirement out of the way.

    And I do know a few who took a few years off to deal with mental issues. They did complete their degrees.

    As for the original writer, I, too, have a lot of issues making friends with Christians (and people in general). I’ve just dialed away from people who I do not feel good around. I haven’t managed to find people I do feel good about, but I work on my self-esteem and do things I enjoy, frequently alone.

  • D

    Just to make this all about me, I desperately don’t want to go to college. I don’t think I could cope with the work or the social aspect, but I wouldn’t mind trying an Open University course. Are you saying everyone, even people who don’t want to be there, should try college (proper college, not distance learning) before they decide against it?

    I hear a lot about how people found themselves at college, but a) I’m not 18 any more, and I’d feel a little squicky hanging around with 18-year-olds and don’t know if there’d be enough mature students around, b) I’m awful at social situations. Not awful to the point that some practice is needed, but awful to the point that college is not practice, college is a terrifying bear-pit full of conversations I don’t want to have. There’s also c), which is that I’m sick and thus not capable of job-getting, and the stress of college might be legitimately dangerous.

    To get back to the point of your post, which shockingly enough is not me and my feelings. ‘No matter what’ is extreme. I wouldn’t even say it’s necessarily ideal. Jesus called us to love others as we love ourselves, which requires some extent of self-love and self-care (I’m sure when you say ‘no matter what’, you’re already adding ‘unless ‘what’ contradicts love of others or God’, but a lot of people don’t add ‘or ourselves’).

    He also said to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Would you want people who didn’t really want to be there hanging around with you? Or would you want them to be your friend because they liked you and not out of some commitment to a Christian ideal?

    And if we are living for Christ, and following Christ, he didn’t hang out with religious people to avoid temptation. He hung out with anyone and everyone. His friends were people who didn’t fit the religious mould. Living for Christ is about way, way more than avoiding temptation, and I’m sure you’ll learn that as you grow.

    (Definitely not trying to condemn you, the person in Jesus’ life I resemble most is probably whoever was the biggest bag of dicks. I can’t choose.)