It is an interesting truth: we become what we worship. That is to say, we emulate—or become like—the people (and things) we most admire.

To understand this concept, we have to understand the origins of the word worship. The word worship comes from the Old English worðscip or wurðscip —or worthship—meaning “condition of being worthy, dignity, glory, distinction, honor, renown.”

To worship something is to look at a person, object, or concept and judge it to be something of worth—something worthy of being worshipped. But there is a reciprocal nature to worship. More than anything, human beings yearn to be valued, to be loved, to be seen as people of worth. If we are looking at a person as someone of worth, we will invariably try to emulate that person as much as possible.

For example, if we see business leaders as individuals worthy of dignity, glory, distinction, honor, and renown, then we will undoubtedly try to become worthy ourselves by emulating the qualities and characteristics of those business leaders.

Or if we “worship” a particular form of art, we will seek opportunities to view, support, and participate in that form of art and in so doing, that art will shape us and we will become like it.

We become what we worship.

Nathaniel Hawthorne illustrated this principle in a powerful, symbolic short story called The Great Stone Face. The story tells of a young man named Ernest who grows up in a small, rural town (most likely in the state of New Hampshire). On a mountain near the town, formed out of a cluster of rock, was what appeared to be the face of a giant man.

For countless centuries, this Great Stone Face had overlooked the valley like a benevolent guardian. Everyone looked up to the Great Stone Face saw that its “expression was at once grand and sweet, as if it were the glow of a vast, warm heart, that embraced all mankind in its affections, and had room for more.”

The Great Stone Face in New Hampshire
The Great Stone Face in New Hampshire

Local legend claimed that one day, the Great Stone Face would visit the people in the form of a man. When he appeared, the townsfolk would recognize him as “the greatest and noblest personage of his time.”

Young Ernest longed to meet this noble personage and eagerly anticipated his arrival. In watching and waiting for this personage to appear, Ernest spends much of his time pondering about and learning from the Great Stone Face. In looking up to the Great Stone Face, Ernest was filled with wisdom and sympathies beyond that of any of his peers.

In time, Ernest became a preacher and encountered several individuals who were rumored to have the likeness of the Great Stone Face: a merchant, a general, a politician, and poet. Each of them have flaws in their nature that puts them at odds with the perceived character of Great Stone Face. Ernest begins to doubt that he will ever see the Great Stone Face personified.

Many years pass and Ernest is asked to deliver one of his sermons at the base of the Great Stone Face. What followed is a beautiful testament to the fact that we become what we admire:

Ernest began to speak, giving to the people of what was in his heart and mind. His words had power, because they accorded with his thoughts; and his thoughts had reality and depth, because they harmonized with the life which he had always lived. It was not mere breath that this preacher uttered; they were the words of life, because a life of good deeds and holy love was melted into them. Pearls, pure and rich, had been dissolved into this precious draught…At that moment, in sympathy with a thought which he was about to utter, the face of Ernest assumed a grandeur of expression, so imbued with benevolence, that [the crowd], by an irresistible impulse, threw his arms aloft and shouted,”Behold! Behold! Ernest is himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face!”

If you want to become more than you are, consider what you worship. That is, consider what it is to which you give your time, talents, and devotion. If you wish to be more than you are, look to God—the Great Stone Face in all our lives—and emulate His goodness.  

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