With almost any information in the world available at the stroke of a Google search, religious and philosophical schools of thought are more accessible than ever. Additionally, because our lives are becoming increasingly more public online, an individual's personal religious journey can also become more visible to family and friends.
So what do you do when you see friends around you seemingly running from God? How do you stay strong while watching loved ones experience a crisis of faith?
1. Don't determine what you believe from Facebook
Everyone knows Facebook is a funny land with its own rules, where your news feed can spew out almost any information to you that is available online. What we see on Facebook is largely determined by what we historically click on, what our Facebook friends read and share and what someone is willing to pay to put in front of you. So, in general, what you see on Facebook is probably not the most well-rounded, objective perspective on any given topic. Just because something catches a lot of attention on Facebook, Twitter or other social media platforms, doesn't make it accurate or even as generally accepted as its number of likes purports.
Don't base what you believe on viral articles or friends' social media rants alone. To determine your own beliefs, reach further than distracting, low-hanging fruit. Do your own research. A handful of friends' opinions or sensational blog post shares-which populate next to kitty memes and life-hack videos-may not be the best indication of reality for such a topic of substance.
The best answers come from the original source. Critical outside voices are unlikely to give objective information or evaluations on the matter. Research from within your religion, ask honest questions, find answers in your own religious texts and, of course, go to God in prayer for answers to your questions. Don't give in to the temptation to get an easy, quick answer from somewhere online that may likely be inaccurate and one-sided.
2. Don't wait to decide what you believe until someone tells you
First determine what you believe-whether you're a person of faith or not, orthodox or reformed, practicing or not. Be sure in your beliefs before those beliefs are tested so you can view religious discussion from an objective perspective. Examine your own life and really ask yourself why you believe what you do and why you live life a certain way. If you can do this, you'll be able to bridge the gap of differences of opinion when friends go the opposite direction.
If people around you are running from God, be respectful. Their changing beliefs are just as big of a part of their lives as belief is in yours. Extend the respect and boundaries you would hope to receive in return when talking about such personal and sensitive topics. Most likely, a friend leaving behind a shared belief has nothing to do with you. So don't make it personal. Try to respect that your friend is truly trying to do what's best for him or her, even if you don't agree.
It can be very painful when important parts of life you previously shared with friends are abandoned by them, but remember you are first their friend and all people have a right to their own beliefs and journeys. Although it is vastly easier said than done, try to be the bigger person and take the high road if hurtful things are said. Remember one's faith is often the most important part of one's life, so the topic is likely going to be sensitive for both sides.
4. Agree to disagree
It may seem strange to suddenly have fundamental differences of belief from those close to you. You may feel compelled to influence each other towards your respective ideas. There is nothing wrong with this, and open discussion of differences of beliefs can be healthy. But, if a point is reached where neither of you will budge, just agree to disagree. No two people in the world think exactly alike despite any amount of similarities. Friendship, understanding and respect can still easily exist among friends with changing beliefs, lifestyles or religions.
It's okay to disagree. To have healthy, substantial relationships you do not need to apologize or compromise your beliefs. If you feel your friends are trying to convince you too aggressively or are overly critical, kindly tell them you don't agree and you'd rather not discuss it.
At some point, you both may need to accept that for the time you disagree and that's where you'll leave it. Move on from differences and focus on similarities, shared interests and values. No matter the circumstance, everyone can find common ground.
5. Go to your source
To stay strong when your friends are running from God, go to your own source of strength and belief. Even our closest associates, at the end of the day, don't determine what we believe or the strength of our relationship with God. Turn to what you know, learn more and try every day to put your values and faith into practice.
Relying on God and your own desire to know truth will outweigh any outward distracting influence. This may include prayer, talking with religious leaders and actively participating in church groups or your community of shared belief. Studying religious texts, attending worship services, participating in religious practices and focusing on the set of commandments you adhere to will help put your belief in the front of your life and bring you peace from doing what you believe is right.
Remember, staying strong is about being faithful to God and trying to do what is right. To stay strong, remember not only why you believe what you do but also why you want to.