Darren* didn’t fit in. He was loud and obnoxious, a constant bragger, and a liar. He never had a nice thing to say about anyone. He constantly put people down.
I was his seminary teacher, and that 14-year-old boy nearly drove me crazy. He was always interrupting class. He had answers for every question, but they usually had nothing to do with the lesson. He took every opportunity to make up some outlandish story where he was the hero and everybody else was just plain stupid.
I must admit, I had to struggle to like Darren. He had to be the center of attention. In his attempts to be funny and to be heard, he was ruining my class. I tried to talk to Darren about it. I tried to help him to see just how disruptive he was, and how he was driving any friends he might have away, but I had no effect on him.
Everyone avoided Darren, everyone except for Jeff. Jeff was one of the sharpest, most popular boys in the school. It was an unlikely friendship, but sometime during Jeff’s sophomore year of high school, he decided to be Darren’s friend.
I couldn’t understand why Jeff, who had lots of friends, would want to hang around with Darren. But he did. He came to class with Darren and left with him. They walked around school together. Jeff even ate lunch with him.
For Jeff to do this was no small sacrifice. One time Jeff was invited to a party but was told Darren couldn’t come because he would ruin things. Jeff told the others that if Darren couldn’t come, he wouldn’t come either. He would do something with Darren instead. That was the way things went for most of the year.
On more than one occasion, Jeff was left out of things because he insisted on bringing Darren. But in spite of this and Darren’s bizarre bragging and put-downs, which were sometimes directed at Jeff, Jeff remained Darren’s loyal friend.
One time in seminary Jeff gave an opening prayer that took us all by surprise. Jeff asked Heavenly Father to bless Darren and help him to know that we cared about him and that he didn’t need to brag in order to have friends. After the prayer I was watching for some kind of reaction from Darren. Would he be embarrassed? Angry? Nothing really happened. Darren was quiet for a few minutes, then went back to being his usual self.
It wasn’t until about the middle of the second year that I sensed a change in Darren. Jeff and the Lord were performing a miracle in slow motion. Jeff’s consistent and loyal friendship was changing Darren. Darren was becoming a nice guy.
Part of the miracle was that Darren knew what Jeff was doing. He knew that Jeff was a friend by choice, sacrifice, and effort, not by natural selection.
In the beginning of their senior year, the bishop had several of the seniors talk in sacrament meeting. Darren was one of the speakers. His talk was about how the Savior befriended everyone and taught that “We should all love one another, even if it’s hard.” He talked about Jeff and thanked him for his friendship. He told the ward that at one time he had decided to leave the Church and school. He hated himself and everyone else. But then Jeff came along and made a difference—by being his friend.
Six years later Jeff and I were witnesses at Darren’s wedding. Looking at Darren’s friends and family gathered together, I saw that the 14-year-old boy with one friend had become a returned missionary with dozens, thanks to the Jeff difference.