From then on you're hooked. As you transition from baby into toddler you become even more fascinated with the attention and praise that people lavish so benevolently upon you. You begin to see that there are things you can do to increase the glory. So you learn tricks. You learn that by saying the right thing or doing the right thing people will like you. And when they like you, they'll want more of you. And that makes you feel good.
From there the dominoes fall, and before you know it you're an adolescent fighting for your identity in a strange new world. That natural cuteness is suddenly shaded by acne and awkwardness, and smelling sweet just isn't as easy as it used to be. Needless to say, being liked is more of a challenge at 16 years than it was at 16 seconds, days, or months. But not everything has changed. You still have tricks.
Luckily you remember the lesson from years ago, that by saying and doing certain things, and not saying and doing other things, people will like you. Thus begins the rat race. Every day is a battle between your awkwardly maturing body and your desperate need to fit in.
You agonize over your clothes and what you'll say to your friends. You spend your mornings camped out in front of the mirror popping zits, fixing hair, and rehearsing lines like it's your Broadway debut coming up, rather than just another day of school. And if you're lucky all of the cards will fall into place and people will like you. Your friends will still be your friends. No one will put any signs on your back, text you hateful things, or start any vicious rumors on Facebook. At least for today, you'll be loved.
Next thing you know you're an adult. All grown up, mature, sure of yourself, and fully aware of who you are and where you're going. Never mind the fact that who you are isn't who you want to be. Or that where you're going isn't where you want to go. Every morning you wake up and dread what the day will bring. The moment the sunlight screams through your window you feel doomed. Every decision you've made for the past ten years has been based on what other people would think. You let your Dad choose your major. You keep your hair cut the way Mom likes. You listen to whatever music is popular. You only read the books that you're friends are reading, just so you'll have something to contribute to the conversation. Your politics change with the wind, as does your religious preference. You are Switzerland.
But, you look good, you're successful, and people like you.
Fast forward sixty years. You're old. Not even Botox can save you now, you're seriously that saggy. Your spouse is gone. Your kids and grand kids rarely visit. You've never even met your great-grand kids. Other than the room mate you're stuck with in the nursing home (the one who thinks she's Elvis) you're alone. And being alone, you have a lot of time to think.
You think about your life. Your accomplishments. Your successes. All the gold stars and accolades you collected along the way. The trust fund you built up that your kids have now torn through. The things you spent so much time and effort finding and collecting and showing off, that are now populating junks yards and thrift stores rather than being enjoyed by your children, like you had intended.
And you think about the people. The friends. The lovers. The children. All the approval you were so desperate for. You remember the day you made the decision that being yourself wasn't as important as being accepted. That was the day you determined that your life would always go with the flow, and never stand against it.
What you wouldn't give to have it all back. To go back to your college days and pursue your dream, rather than someone else's. To go back to the days when you were a newlywed and start things off right. To go back to the days when your kids were young, and teach them the lesson you're only now learning.
That there is more to life then being liked. Than being loved. Than being happy.
Today I pray that you will fight for more. As much as you and I both want to be accepted, at some point following Christ will lead to a crossroad.
One road is laid with a beautiful red carpet. A lot of glamorous, popular people have walked down it. If you listen closely you can hear them lined up alongside it chanting your name. They love you. And they want you. But there's no room for that cross you've been carrying. It's too big and bulky. The edges are rough and they might tear that beautiful carpet. You'll have to leave it behind. Or, there's the other road.
Also red. Covered with the crimson blood of the One who's beckoning you to come. A lot of humble, forgotten people have walked down it. If you listen closely you can hear their voices crying out to God. Voices of those who have been persecuted. Rejected. Hated. And yet their song is not bitterness, but joy. Praise. Hope. They want you. They love you. But you can't race down this road, because of that cross that you're carrying. It's too big and bulky to move swiftly. Instead you'll have to take one step at a time. Slow. Steady. Focused.
I hope you choose the second road, but more than that I pray that your eyes will be opened and you'll see clearly enough to know which road you're now on. If there is need of change, the time is now. Don't wait for the day when you're trapped in a room with Elvis. Get it right today.