As I was praying for my daughters this morning I thought about peer pressure and the importance of being strong enough to make the RIGHT decisions regardless of what those around you are doing. I was reminded of a time when I chose to go along with the crowd and the events that unfolded because of that choice.
Picture it. Marina del Rey. August 1999. I had just graduated from high school and was so excited to be heading off to college. 8-10 friends and I decided that to celebrate we would go to Marie Callender’s. We had a blast—ordering whatever we wanted, laughing about our high school memories, and making fun of the waiter and other restaurant patrons. When we finished our meals it seemed like most of my table stood up and walked out. A few of us sat dumbfounded trying to figure out what was going on. Had they paid without us seeing them? Did they leave without paying? When had they decided to leave and why hadn’t we been given the memo? If we continued to sit at the table, would we have to pay for their meals in addition to our own? Next thing I knew, I too was out of the restaurant—bill unpaid.
Outside the restaurant I felt an extreme sense of guilt. I couldn’t believe that I had walked out. I had more than enough money to pay my bill. How had this happened? I said to my dear friend, who was also a “goodie two-shoes” like me, “We HAVE to go back and pay. We KNOW better than this.”
We discussed the situation a little while before he agreed to walk back with me so that we could pay. We headed in the direction of the restaurant and then out of nowhere he grabbed me tightly by the arm, turned around, and ran towards the waiting get-away cars. The next thing I knew I was in the car and my friends smashed out.
I couldn’t believe it. Just like that I was a thief…and a fugitive.
For the next few days I beat myself up for the poor decision I had made. I confided in my sister, who is ten years older than I am. I told her what had happened and that as soon as I got my new car a few days later, I was going to go back and pay. I told her how terribly guilty I felt and made her promise that she wouldn’t tell my mother.
Of course my sister told my mother (which I realized years later when I thought about the irony in the way the story unfolded).
My mother chose to protect my sister by telling me that a church member had called her and told her that they saw someone who looked like me on the news running through a parking lot with a group of kids. My heart began to palpitate. I was on the news? The authorities must be looking for me. I was going to jail over a $15 meal that I could have easily paid for. Oh God!!! You know I had every intention of going back to pay as soon as I got my car and could drive there without my mother having to know what had happened. I felt dizzy. I broke down and told her everything. I told her that I was SOOO sorry and I cried and cried.
My mom seemed disappointed, but she wasn’t upset. She told me that she would take me back to pay and lectured me about the importance of surrounding myself with honest people. I called my friends and tried to convince them to pay as well. I told them that someone had seen us on the news and that I was going back. They were a little more street savvy than I was and told me that there was no way anyone had seen us and that they weren’t going back. I knew that my sister had promised not to tell my mom and there was no way that my mom would ever stretch the truth, so someone had to have seen us.
When my mother and I got to Marie Callender’s I confessed everything that had happened to the manager. I told him that I was sooo sorry and had no excuse for behaving so poorly. I gave him the money for the food and he told me that he appreciated me for coming back. He even gave me a free pie.
• I must take responsibility for my actions. I have options in every situation I encounter. Making bad choices because I feel like I don’t have any other options is unacceptable because if I relax and think clear headedly about what is going on, I ALWAYS have more than one. I could have paid my portion of the bill (or even the entire bill), allowed my friends to leave me, and asked my mom or dad to come pick me up. At the time I didn’t think about that. As soon as I got home I could have told my mother what had happened and asked her to take me back to the restaurant to pay, but I didn’t mention it because I thought she would be upset with me, and the thought of disappointing my parents has always been torturous for me…but in all honesty it isn’t nearly as bad as the thought of disappointing the Master, which had already been done when I followed the crowd.
• Sometimes our sins put other people in uncomfortable positions and can cause them to fall as well. My sister promised me that she wouldn’t tell…but she did. My mom then chose to come up with a bogus story to protect my sister, who was really just trying to do what was best and look out for me. All of this stemmed from my initial sin.
• The restaurant manager taught me a valuable lesson about forgiveness. He could have responded to the situation a number of ways, but he allowed me to pay, spoke very kindly to me, forgave me, and then blessed me with a sweet treat. He didn’t have to do any of that, but he was compassionate, understanding, and even thankful that I had come back to do the right thing. He recognized that I was TRULY repentant and he forgave me—just as God does.
• I should always make sure that I surround myself with honest people. It may be more tempting for me to do what is wrong than it is for them to do what is right…and that’s a chance that I choose not to take. Regardless of who sees or doesn’t see me, God is always watching, and I want so badly to make Him proud. The guilt associated with the sin just isn’t ever worth it. The punishment that accompanies the sin is NEVER worth it. I tell Amari this all the time. The bible is clear. God is VERY forgiving, but He hates sin…and He punishes sin…and the punishment is NEVER worth the sin.
Interestingly I found myself in a very similar situation a few years later. This time I was with a group of people at a Denny’s in Las Vegas. I was a little older…and a little wiser. This time I made the right decision and paid. It was also in that moment that I fully embraced the fact that my associations matter. I had to choose better friends and acquaintances and I made a conscious effort to do just that.