Young People Ask . . .
What Should I Do if a Friend Gets Into Trouble?
Fourteen-year-old Sherrie says: “My best friend drifted away from being a Christian. It makes me sad. I’ve tried so hard to encourage her!”*
HAS someone close to you got into trouble or begun to follow a questionable life-style? “I was close to Chris,” Johnny says. “We were best friends. One day he ran away from home. This shocked me, and I felt obligated to go after him. I drove all night looking for him.”
The Bible warned that during the last days, great pressures would come upon people, young and old. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) So it should not shock us when from time to time a young Christian stumbles. But when it happens to someone you care about, you may feel a spectrum of emotions, ranging from sorrow and compassion to anger. You want to help your friend. But how can you do so?
‘I Can Save Him’
The Bible says: “He who turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save [the sinner’s] soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20) But does this mean that doing so is your burden? Not necessarily. Your friend’s parents have the primary responsibility for him.* (Ephesians 6:4) The Bible further says at Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.” Congregation overseers are particularly qualified in this regard. They are thus in a better position to help than you are.
Face it, as a young person, you have limited experience in life. (Compare Hebrews 5:14.) So modestly acknowledge your limitations in this regard and avoid biting off more than you can chew. (Proverbs 11:2) Consider a youth named Rebekah. She tried to help a male friend, a relative, who had become involved in drugs. She relates: “What put pressure on me was that he confided in me and not in his parents. I tried to help him, but it was very frustrating. It helped me when I finally realized I could do nothing . . . I could not be his savior.” Rebekah then urged him to get help from qualified adults.
Young Matthew was in a similar situation, but he acknowledged his limitations at the outset. He says regarding a troubled friend: “He would come to me with his problems, but I would tell him to go to his parents. I knew better than to carry his problems.”
How You Can Help
This does not mean that you cannot do anything to help. Much depends upon the circumstances. Maybe your friend wants to confide in you. Naturally, you would want to be there for him and offer a hearing ear. (Proverbs 18:24; 21:13) Or it may be that he has begun to follow a questionable life-style. It would be appropriate to take the initiative and tell him that while you care about him, you cannot approve of what he is doing.
Another situation may involve a friend who admits to serious wrongdoing. He may even try to swear you to silence. But the Bible says: “Never . . . be a sharer in the sins of others; preserve yourself chaste.” (1 Timothy 5:22) If your friend was gravely ill and needed medical help, would you not insist on taking him to a doctor? Similarly, if he has got into serious wrongdoing, he needs spiritual help. To keep matters secret could kill him spiritually—and adversely affect the congregation. You therefore have an obligation to see to it that the congregation elders are informed.—Compare Leviticus 5:1.
Young Caroline took a courageous stand regarding a wayward friend who was lying to her parents. She says: “I gave her two weeks to go to the elders. If she didn’t, I told her I would go to them. This was not easy for me to do.” Johnny, mentioned at the outset, showed similar strength of character. Regarding his friend, Johnny recalls: “I was surprised to find he was living with a girl. There were other guys there drinking and smoking.” Johnny asked his friend to step outside and strongly recommended that he seek help from the elders in the congregation.
Your friend may or may not appreciate your efforts. The Bible tells us that when his brothers engaged in wrongdoing, the young man Joseph “brought a bad report about them to their father.” This certainly did not enhance his popularity with his brothers. Indeed, “they began to hate him.”—Genesis 37:2-4.
Business as Usual?
You would undermine your efforts to help, though, if you kept on socializing with your friend as if nothing had happened. At 1 Corinthians 15:33, the apostle Paul warned Christians against associating with wrongdoers. Close association with such individuals can only drag you down!
Young Mollie learned this the hard way when her friend Sally began dating secretly. Not only was Sally too young to marry but she dated boys who were not Christians. Mollie ignored the situation and continued associating with her friend. The result? Says Mollie: “Eventually, Sally set me up with a worldly boy, and we went out on a date.” Fortunately, Mollie got some help from congregation elders before the situation became more serious.
Lynn likewise made some dangerous compromises in order to retain her friendship with a girl named Beth. “I felt I could rescue her,” recalls Lynn, “but it didn’t work. I went to clubs with her. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t want her to get hurt. Her problems began weighing me down. I kept silent about the matter, thinking the problem would go away, but it got bigger.” Tragedy gave Lynn a rude awakening. Her friend Beth was killed by the young man she was dating.
Sticking by a friend may sound noble. But if your friend were literally drowning in a powerful whirlpool, would you jump in yourself? All that would do is get both of you killed. The sensible thing to do would be to throw him a life preserver. Similarly, you need to render help from a distance.—Jude 22, 23.
Keeping your distance is imperative if your friend is expelled from the congregation. The Bible’s command is to “quit mixing in company” with that one. (1 Corinthians 5:11) While you still care about that one, you can best help him, not by following him into wrongdoing, but by displaying loyalty to Jehovah. (Psalm 18:25) Your uncompromising stand may be the very thing that moves him to reconsider his actions. More important, your loyalty will bring pleasure to Jehovah.—Proverbs 27:11.
Oftentimes, though, one’s best attempts to help fail. Rebekah recalls regarding her friend: “I tried to reach out and help her. I even wrote her a letter, but she never answered it.” Caroline found that after months of trying to help a friend who was flirting with trouble, she “started to feel some strain.”
It is important to recognize that “each of us will render an account for himself to God.” (Romans 14:12) And while it is appropriate to help someone carry his burdens, or personal problems, by rendering practical assistance, you simply cannot carry another person’s “load”—that is, his responsibility toward God. “Each one will carry his own load,” says the Bible. (Galatians 6:5) You are not responsible for the choices your friend makes.
Even so, watching a friend wreck his life is painful. A young man named Mike says regarding the loss of a friend: “It hit me hard. I was so close to Mark and his parents. I suffered some depression.”
It is only natural to grieve such a loss. However, talking about your feelings with someone you trust can help. (Proverbs 12:25) “With the help of my parents,” says Rebekah, “I was able to get over it.” You can also pour out your feelings to Jehovah God in prayer. (Psalm 62:8) Caroline sums matters up well by saying: “Praying to Jehovah and preaching to others helped me very much. I also got close to others in the congregation, especially older women. I finally realized that people are accountable for their own actions and that I needed to move on with my life.” By doing all of that, you will surely help yourself. And you just might help your wayward friend too.
Some of the names have been changed.
For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to the wayward friend in the male gender.
[Picture on page 17]
Encourage your friend to get help