Recently some friends encouraged me to look at a video of a 13-year-old who did some marvelous impressions of United States presidential candidates. The occasion, I think, was his graduation from junior high school. There was a big audience that was highly appreciative of his talent, and rightly so.
It reminded me of a time when, as a senior in high school, I did impressions of some teachers in front of fellow seniors, the entire junior class, and some faculty members. It was at an annual event that took place the month before graduation. The response was wonderful, and I felt on top of the world. I basked in the glow of others’ approval for several weeks.
It was an entirely different picture, though, when shortly after graduation, I was invited to a party with some fellow graduates in the backyard of one of the teacher’s homes. I felt quite alone, despite the large group, and not particularly appreciated. At the earlier event I had felt buoyed by popularity, but now I felt depressed by others’ indifference toward me. I quietly left the party, probably unnoticed, and headed home.
That experience taught me a valuable lesson, one that I’ve been reminded of from time to time over the years: Popularity doesn’t provide a genuine, lasting basis for self-worth or fulfillment. It’s appropriate, of course, that we appreciate others’ talents and that they appreciate what we have to offer. It’s also appropriate that we feel others’ support and kindness and that we express that kindness ourselves. Yet a feeling of worth can’t, in the final analysis, be the outcome of personal popularity. One’s value as an individual has a deeper basis. These words of Christ Jesus point us to that basis: “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6, 7).
Our worth, our value, is actually found in a growing perception of our relation to God as His offspring. It’s found in the consciousness of His love for us. This may seem, at times, to be elusive, beyond our reach. It may seem a pleasant concept with little practical value. But silent communion with God in prayer, listening for His thoughts – which affirm the unchanging value of each one of His children – can provide vital glimpses of our inherent worth. It can help us see more clearly that we’re not really separate from God; we’re not separate from divine Love, needing to be popular in order to be satisfied. Our true being is God’s very expression, His indispensable spiritual “likeness” (Genesis 1:26), therefore always worthy, always satisfied.
To have a popular following through the use of God-given talents may be an indication of success. But popularity can’t, of itself, provide a deeper need in relation to self-worth. That need is to increasingly identify ourselves spiritually – not as a finite personality subject to the fluctuations of human approval, but as the expression of God, a distinct, individual reflection of His pure, wise, intelligent, loving nature. There’s a kind of emptiness that results from a dependency on popular approval. But depending on divine approval, through striving to express more of the divine nature in what we do, puts us on solid ground.
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, says simply, “Popularity, self-aggrandizement, aught that can darken in any degree our spirituality, must be set aside” (“Pulpit and Press,” p. 21).
That afternoon at the teacher’s house I caught an early glimpse of how fleeting popularity can be. It was an unhappy moment at the time, but it foreshadowed an ongoing need to look in a more spiritual direction for worth and fulfillment. That lesson has been very helpful, and I continue to be grateful for it.