I stayed out of the race for popularity for the first half of high school—not because I wanted to, but because I knew I wasn’t cool enough to compete. I would watch from the sidelines and tell myself, “Oh, popularity is such a waste of time,” but deep down I wished the “cool kids” would see me.
As time went on, I got tired of having a small circle of friends. So I decided to change the way I looked and acted, hoping to catch the attention of the “cooler” kids I wanted to be friends with. I significantly moved up the social food chain, but it came at a price—I made a lot of bad decisions to finally get noticed.
For a little while, it felt good to be popular! But it honestly didn’t take long for me to see that popularity was an illusion—the people I was surrounding myself with didn’t actually care about me. They were all just trying to win the social race for themselves.
I felt lonely even among my “friends,” and when I finally took a break from this pointless race, I realized how thin my connection to God had become.
Christ Sees Us Where We Are
I’m not the first person to fall into the popularity trap, and I know popularity is not the only trap Satan sets to distract us from building and maintaining our relationship with God. Money, possessions, and worldly obsessions are all things I’ve seen Satan try to lure us with. His goal is to slowly lead us away until we’re so far that we feel unforgivable and undeserving of even being children of God (see 2 Nephi 28:21).
Sister Amy A. Wright, First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency, says, “Often the scriptures give only a small portion of someone’s life, and based on that portion, we sometimes tend to exalt or condemn. No one’s life can be understood by one magnificent moment or one regrettable public disappointment. The purpose of these scriptural accounts is to help us see that Jesus Christ was the answer then, and He is the answer now. He knows our complete story and exactly what we suffer, as well as our capabilities and vulnerabilities.”1
This message was a huge reminder for me that although I’d made big mistakes and had wandered from the path, Jesus Christ saw me where I was, loved me still, and had a way back for me.
I believe Heavenly Father saw me heading in the wrong direction during high school and reached out to me by inspiring my parents. They noticed that I wasn’t myself anymore and that a lot of the light I used to have inside was missing. So, my mom asked if we could start having one-on-one scripture study together every night. I agreed, even though I hadn’t personally studied the scriptures for a while.
At first it felt like reading a chapter each night wasn’t making much of a difference; however, after a few months, I looked back and realized how far I’d come in strengthening my connection with God. I noticed an increase in my baseline level of happiness, and it became easier to let go of those friends who weren’t good influences.
Refamiliarizing myself with the scriptures has been a great blessing. I especially love the story of Alma the Younger and his incredible change of heart (see Alma 36:6–24). In my scripture journal I wrote this about his story: “God freely forgives anyone who repents. All we have to do is reach out. Those who leave the path are welcome back as soon as they make an effort to return.”
I know now that changing ourselves for the popular things of the world can be tempting but can also take us away from the path that leads to true happiness. The only changes that will give us the sense of belonging and fulfillment we seek are the ones that strengthen our connection to Heavenly Father. Like Brother Bradley R. Wilcox, Second Counselor in the Young Men General Presidency, recently taught, Heavenly Father wants us to change in righteous ways because “God loves us as we are, but He also loves us too much to leave us this way.”2 I still have a long way to go to be the person Heavenly Father wants me to be, but I’m choosing to change because I love Him.