I didn’t have a lot of friends when I was 15. Or at least that’s the way it seemed. I really wanted to fit in, but most of the time I felt like an outsider.
One warm Sunday morning I shoved my hands in my pockets, ducked my head, and started walking to sacrament meeting. I heard a car behind me but didn’t pay any attention until it pulled up next to me at the curb. It was a classy, bright red outfit. I was surprised that I knew the driver. It was a guy I’ll call Tom.
I’d known Tom most of my life. He was a natural leader. His parents were active, and he usually went to church. We didn’t hang around together at school because Tom ran with a crowd that didn’t think much of me. Tom was athletic, good looking, and popular. I was surprised that he bothered to stop.
“Hey,” Tom said, “where are you going?”
“To church,” I answered awkwardly. “Where did you get the wheels?”
“It belongs to my cousin,” Tom smiled, patting the steering wheel. “He lets me use it.”
I stepped back for a better look. The red car was sleek and shiny, and the engine rumbled like an earthquake. There was music playing that sounded like a live band in the back seat. I hoped Mom would let me drive her rusty clunker when I got my license, but “the green box” was as ugly as a soup can. I shook my head and sighed hopelessly.
“Do you want to go for a ride?” Tom offered.
I was stunned. “Sure,” I said, “but I can’t be gone very long. I’ve got to set up the sacrament.”
“Let someone else do it,” Tom sneered.
I believed my priesthood responsibilities were important, but here was a chance to spend time with someone popular. No one would care if I was late, and I was sure the sacrament would get done without me.
“All right,” I agreed. “Where are we going?”
Tom smiled. “I promised the girls a ride. Jump in. We’ll find them and look up some fun.”
When I realized the offer was more than just a ride around the block, my stomach flopped and my mouth filled with cotton. A thousand thoughts filled my head. This could be my big chance! The girls Tom knew were popular and pretty. If I showed up with him, there was a chance they might like me. It could mean a whole new image. And yet …
Tom’s face clouded over. “Are you coming?” he demanded.
I tried to answer, but the noise I made sounded like I was strangling. I couldn’t seem to move my feet.
“I guess you’re scared,” he concluded as he jammed the car into gear. “Well, it won’t take me long to find someone else.”
Tom punched the pedal and took off like a shot, leaving a patch of rubber to remind me what a fool I was. I stood and stared after him with my mouth open.
“He’s right,” I told myself miserably. “I am scared.” I felt terrible. “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” I muttered, kicking the curb so hard my toes hurt.
I went to church, but I couldn’t pay attention to the meetings. I was sure that Tom would never ask me to ride with him again (I was right) and that he would tell everyone what a geek I was (right again).
After the meetings I went straight to my bedroom and beat up my pillow. Church had cost me a chance to be with Tom and his cool friends. I felt sick about it and called myself names until I couldn’t think of any more. Finally I went to sleep just to get away from myself.
Late that afternoon I got a phone call. It was Joel. We had been best friends when we were little kids but hadn’t spent much time together for quite a while.
“I got my driver’s license,” he said proudly. “Dad said I can take the car. Do you want a ride?”
“A ride?” I repeated, astonished. Was this really Joel? I tried to imagine him cruising on a Sunday afternoon with a load of giggling girls. It just didn’t work. In fact, the thought gave me brain flutters. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m offering you a ride to the fireside,” he said. “What did you think I meant?”
Now it all made sense. The stake youth fireside was in the next town. It did not sound very interesting. Going to a meeting like that was exactly Joel’s kind of thing to do.
“I’m sick of meetings,” I told him. “I may never go to another meeting as long as I live.”
“Have you got something better to do?” he asked.
“Let me put on a tie,” I groaned. “I’ll be ready in five minutes.”
There was nothing special about Joel’s family car. He drove it very carefully, making sure he didn’t speed or leave any patches of rubber at the intersections. We had a nice talk on the way to the stake center. I’d forgotten what a good friend he was and how much we had in common.
The fireside was one of those “come if you want to” affairs that hadn’t been advertised very well. There weren’t very many people there. Just the faithful, I thought as I looked around. I was surprised by the warm feeling that came over me. A girl my age led the singing, and other kids said the prayers and introduced the speaker. I suddenly felt very close to everyone I saw. Going to the meeting was Joel’s idea, but I was sure being blessed by being there!
“Friends are important,” the speaker told us. “When you pick your friends, you choose the direction of your life.” He told how friends had helped him stay close to the Church when he was a teenager. Then he read a scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants that really hit me. It was a verse where the Lord calls his people “friends.” “The Lord,” the speaker explained, “reserves the title friend for those who are valiant in obeying his commandments. He speaks to his friends and hears their prayers. They are the ones who stand beside him, and he stands by them. A true friend will help you stay close to the Church and to live a righteous life.” What he said made sense. I started thinking about friends in a different way.
A few years have gone by since I was offered those two rides on the Sabbath. I’m sad to say that Tom was on the wrong road. He got in a lot of trouble and broke his family’s heart. I’ve always been grateful that I didn’t jump to accept his sudden offer of “friendship” that day. Joel, on the other hand, was honorably released from a mission in New York about the same time I returned from mine in Japan. We had a joyous reunion. He’s still my very good friend.