“I don’t believe in God,” my young friend blurted out over lunch as he waited for my reply.

We’d never discussed religion, with most of our conversations revolving around issues which didn’t mix with the philosophy of “what would Jesus do?” My mind started racing with what the right answer should be. This might be my only shot at sharing my faith with this 15-year-old boy whose path was already full of twists and turns and thus the reason the school suggested he have a “youth friend mentor.”

I tried to keep my opinions short and sweet as I hadn’t forgotten what my mindset was like as a teenager, but I also knew whatever my response was, it had to make an impact.

Growing up as a troubled teen, I didn’t have much use for religion and my parents didn’t attend church. Life was a free-for-all and I took full advantage of it. I wasn’t worried about the consequences of my actions and it didn’t matter who paid the price, although I had no idea someone had already settled the debt for me.

As a teenager, would I have welcomed the news of a man who lived and died for our sins, when religion seemed like a foreign language? How could I possibly squeeze it all in within such a short amount of time? Should I capture his interest with the amazing story of a resurrection? Before I could come up with anything to say, he added, “I’m not going to believe in anything I can’t see or touch.”

I wasn’t worried I hadn’t given him a response yet, as that had become our norm over the years of having a weekly lunch together. He would talk a little and then we’d think about it while inhaling the fast food lunch I’d brought into the counselor’s office lunchroom. Occasionally, I’d slip in my thoughts, careful to limit it to only a sentence or two at a time because if teenagers think a lecture is coming, they have an internal shut-down mode that will block out any and all incoming advice. Basically, he just wanted to concentrate on his food like any other teenage boy.

It doesn’t matter what angle you decide to use to convince another person to believe in what you know to be true. It’s within the heart and soul, and it belongs only to you. All you can do is show them the way and hope they’ll follow. To say you believe in God is not enough, although I would have felt like a hypocrite preaching to anyone about learning his word through church and Bible studies since I have fallen off the track myself more times than I like to admit.

Finally I said to my young friend, “That’s a bummer.” He looked at me as though he needed more so I continued.

“I believe God led me to you,” I said.

He smiled and finished his fries. I thanked God for opening a door.

Have a blessed Easter everyone.

Sandy Turner is a GateHouse Media columnist.