I love being liked. I think it’s safe to say I am not in the minority. Social media alone reveals that a lot of time and effort goes into managing an image that makes you irresistible, adorable, fun, wise and witty, on-trend, yet, authentic.
Success might ultimately be defined not just by my “likes” or “shares,” but whether my quotes end up on artsy, cool plaques and posters. But to be honest, why wouldn’t every speaker-girl person want this? Duh, it’s being popular — and popularity is the drug of choice to convince you of your worth and value, or that your message must be on point. Our culture gets it. Consider the song about popularity from the musical, “Wicked” when Galinda the Good Witch sings:
"We're gonna make you pop-u-lar! When I see depressing creatures, with unprepossessing features / I remind them on their own behalf to think of celebrated heads of state or especially great communicators / Did they have brains or knowledge? Don't make me laugh! / They were popular! It's all about popular! / It's not about aptitude, it's the way you're viewed / So it's very shrewd to be, very very popular — like me!"
Isn’t being smart, knowledgeable or accomplished the guarantee of success? Nope. It’s about how you’re viewed and approved. Popularity requires being savvy and shrewd, among other things, but at what price? Does it mean your message is what people want to hear or need to hear?
I decided to do a little research. I had a free weekend so I spent a large amount of time on Instagram stalking every amazing woman blogger, communicator and speaker-girl person I could find who had experienced a good dose of fame and popularity. I was broad in my search and didn’t limit myself to just Christian “types,” even though I fall into that category. It wasn’t long before I found it necessary to break and bolster myself. I accomplished this by opening the freezer and passing my spoon from one pint of gelato to another until all three pints were consumed in a five-hour span.
Now, don’t get me wrong. These women warriors are amazing people, and besides their external beauty, they are beautiful in the way they honestly share their wisdom and wit. I’ve learned a lot from their transparency, but that weekend it wasn’t their words of wisdom as much as the “Wow” of how they presented themselves on social media that affected me.
I looked at their outer décor and wondered, “Does she diet, and which ones has she tried? How often does she highlight her hair? Is that really her dog, and are those her children or just props? Is she even real?”
These women were of all ages, shapes and sizes, but when I compared myself to them, I never measured up. I clean up nice, but that is not what I look like on a real, everyday basis. Trust me. I have witnesses and documentation to prove it.
By the time I finally stopped my inquest on Monday, I was depressed. But as I was sorting socks and peeling potatoes that rainy afternoon, I thought about the purpose of all Christian speaker-girls. Why do we travel and share God’s love? I think the consensus would be similar: Everyone needs to know God created us for a unique purpose and he loves us right where we are, not based on what we do, but what he did. This Earth experience is hard; we all make mistakes and need to know we’re not alone. However, if the questions went deeper and more specific, we’d begin to see that while we all may claim to be Christ followers, we all have differences, some that are quite significant — which I am now finding, make us more or less popular than others.
The message of the cross should come with a warning. It is not a blueprint for becoming popular. My research and gelato revealed that while it is popular to transparently share our mistakes and pain because there’s power in our vulnerability, it’s probably best not to point out our real condition and the bondage to our impotent worst self and the sin that entangles us. We love hearing others’ junk because we identify with our own secrets and shame, but this is the difficulty as we also love to be in control. We want to be our heroes who authentically share their weaknesses and live above them, but coming clean with our self-addiction and desire to look good is just not as popular.
This freedom comes when we believe God removes all the stains and completely forgives us. Understanding his grace frees us to face our addiction and sin. God paid a high price for our freedom and pardon and he is not persuaded by our moralism, only the realization of our need for his finished work on the cross. Of course, it’s not my job to convict people, but that is why I tell the truth and let God do the rest.
I recently had the privilege of hearing Fleming Rutledge speak. She was one of the first women ordained in the Episcopal Church and her latest book, “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ,” is a masterpiece. I have not read it all, but what I have is profound. She’s beautiful and popular, but I don’t think she knows or cares.
Rutledge is almost 80 and wears her bobbed white hair like a crown. She focused on why Jesus came and said this about popularity: "Paul had discovered something that the church can never forget: our work is not to repackage the Gospel in ways that will make it more appealing or popular. Our mission is to preach Christ crucified; Christ risen; Christ incarnate; Christ in his body the Church; Christ in the blessed sacrament of the altar; Christ in the mighty Word read, proclaimed, and obeyed; Christ the Lord and Savior of all. We preach Christ crucified. God will take care of the rest."
Isn’t that good? Sometimes I think we try and take our own sufferings and struggles and think, “I can relate to Jesus,” but it’s the other way around. God came as man, in Christ, so he can relate to us. There is no way we can "relate" to Jesus’ necessary death because we are the necessity that caused the death.
I am a work in progress, but I know I’m justified by faith. Maturity and becoming Christ-like and free takes time and big helpings of grace. I am sure we can all point to people who are kinder or better than those who profess Christ. The good news is God looks at our hearts and how much we trust him for his finished work and the unfinished work he has yet to do in us. The good news is, he never stops loving us despite our lack of trust in our most challenging times.
My desire is to be able to walk in the grace God gives me in spite of myself and share that Good News with others. God gets us. He loves us. He wants us to be free to enjoy life and the peace he offers. When he died, every sin we committed was in the future so we know even when we sin tomorrow we are forgiven. I think this is why I can sing along with Galinda in part…
"My tender heart tends to start to bleed / And when someone needs a makeover, I simply have to take over / I know, I know exactly what they need"
Yes, I know exactly what others need, too, Galinda, but it’s not having followers who make you popular. It's about following the one who sets you free.