Peer pressure is a nasty business. It is particularly intense in high school, but it lives on wherever two or more or gathered who totally forget Jesus’ main message – God loves you just the way you are.
Paul says it quite powerfully: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
I’d like to add for clarity that not even our insecurities, our failings, our sins, our mistakes, our bad hair days or most embarrassing moments – not even any of those things can stop the tidal flow of love coming toward us every day from our Creator.
“Choice always involves choosing a model and true freedom lies in the basic choice between a human or a divine model.” – René Girard
But when we forget that we are loved, what a mess we get ourselves into. Instead of resting in the reality of being loved by God we get caught up in seeking approval from others who are slightly less divine. This is how we can come to feel a great deal of pressure from our peers. To be accepted, we conform ourselves to what we think will win approval. We wear the right clothes, like the hot band, care about the trending cause, despise those people, vote the party line – you know the scene.
And to reassure ourselves that we are indeed wearing the right clothes, buying the right products and so on, we tease, ridicule or outright ostracize anyone who isn’t conforming. It’s a sure-fire way to satisfy our need for belonging, but it depends on exclusion, on knowing that we are in by keeping others out.
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Christ reoriented our desire to be loved and accepted toward God, setting us free. Only God’s abundant, unshakeable love for us can truly set us free to be who we are meant to be in all our delicious oddities and eccentricities. Jesus taught us what it looks like to imitate that divine love and share it with one another – it looks like having a meal with the out-crowd, forgiving one another and loving our enemies. In the next article we will take a deeper look at how we can lose our authentic selves when we forget how much we are loved by God.
But it’s not always like this, right? There are times when we extend God’s generous love to others and when it has been offered to us. Those are times when you feel like you are being seen for who you are, not for who the other person needs you to be. It’s a wonderful feeling and it’s what God wants for us.
One of my favorite lines from Scripture is Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” It sounds like Paul is stating the obvious here, but in the context of peer pressure it makes perfect sense.
When we seek approvals from others who are just as needy as we are, we can get stuck in futility, seeking God’s love in all the wrong places. This is the opposite of freedom because it enslaves us to the approval of others in order to feel good about ourselves. Instead of being our authentic selves, we become carbon copies of one another.