THE other night on the television show I was watching, The Simpsons, Bart asked his dad if it was important to be popular. If you're familiar with the show, you know that his dad's moral compass has a few loose screws! He replied: ''Popularity is the most important thing in the whole wide world.''
Bart wanted some friends, and some of the most popular kids in school were letting him hang around with them. But to fit in meant Bart was having to do more and more things that were dishonest. And while Bart is often in trouble, he's not naturally bad. He didn't want to be bad, he wanted to be accepted. That's why he asked his dad about popularity.
What do you think? How important is it to be popular? How far would you go to be accepted by the ''in'' group? These are good questions to ask your own parents.
Almost no one wants to sit by himself in the lunchroom, or walk alone in the halls between classes. But sometimes being accepted seems to mean doing things that we don't really want to do. Few start smoking or drinking all alone; it's when we are with our friends. Someone suggests the idea, and then suddenly there's a lot of pressure to join in. That's because people really know in their heart that it's wrong, and they can only feel secure if everyone does it.
Secure is a key word. If we know deep inside who we are, we feel secure. Probably no one ever felt as secure as Christ Jesus did. No self-doubt, no insecurity, tormented him. Jesus was so close to God that he could hear His thoughts. After Jesus was baptized, Matthew's Gospel tells us, he heard God's voice saying, ''This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased'' (3:17). This knowledge supported him in good times and bad.
All of us have the right to this kind of relationship with God. As we strive to learn from Jesus' example, we discover that God is our best friend. He never deserts or forsakes us. God is never angry, never shuts us out. In First John, the Bible makes this point: ''Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God'' (3:1)--and that goes for all of us, sons and daughters. God is the source of all good. Sound friendships are evidence of the goodness of God in our lives.
When our desire for friends or for popularity brings us into conflict with what we know is right, however, it's important not to lose sight of God. God is always affirming that we are His beloved children in whom He is well pleased. We shouldn't do anything that makes it impossible for us to hear that. For example, on the television show, even though Bart is a church-goer, his dad's advice sent him off on the wrong track. He ended up doing something terribly wrong. Everyone was angry at him; he had no friends. Life became a nightmare. It wasn't until he was able to fix his mistakes that he had any peace--or any friends--at all.
Sometimes it seems that you have to choose between staying right with God or staying right with your friends. That's no fun. But the choice is important. If we forget that God is the source of all the good that we ever have, we might be tempted to make the wrong choice. When we let peer pressure make us do what we know is wrong in order to be popular, we always lose. We pick up habits that get us in trouble. And sooner or later we have to get right again with God. Only then do we feel happy and secure.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes in her Message to The Mother Church for 1902: ''Jesus commanded, 'Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead;' in other words, Let the world, popularity, pride, and ease concern you less, and love thou'' (p. 9). Don't worry so much about popularity. Be steadfast in your love for God and your friends, and you will feel secure and will build friendships that last.
A friend loveth
at all times.