What’s In a Number?

There was a time that I was a slave to the number on the scale. That number dictated my mood, my motivation, and my self-worth. Numbers of calories took up way too much mental and emotional space. Those numbers related to how much food I could eat, how much food I wouldn’t eat, or how much I needed to exercise. I knew the number of calories in various foods and could add or subtract them in my sleep. I was a slave to the numbers.

There was a time that I was a slave to the number on a scale.

Thankfully, those numbers hold less power over me at this stage in my life. In fact, rarely do I pay much attention to those numbers anymore. Still, I have found other numbers can quickly take precedence in my mind. The number in my bank account. The number of an upcoming bill. The number of days left until vacation. The number of friends who RSVP’d to my party. Numbers seem to take up a lot of my mental space.

In this season of life, however, the numbers I seem to focus on most are the number of friends, followers, and likes I have on social media. I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s the truth. I have a love/hate relationship with social media for all of the reasons that most people do. On the positive side, it means instant access to my friends, even those I don’t get to see in everyday life. Also, from a ministry aspect, it means I have an instant platform from which to advertise and reach an audience I may never see in real life.

Numbers of likes and follows can also become a source of bondage in the desire for approval.

On the other hand, social media stirs in me a constant desire for likes and approval. There is an addictive quality of needing to check and recheck, and, before I know it, my time has been wasted. Minutes and hours lost on social media are also numbers.

Numbers are not inherently bad. They are in fact just measurements. It’s what I am measuring, and the significance I place on the numbers that can turn them into a form of idolatry. An ideal number can quickly become bondage. God knows that our hearts are idol factories, and Jesus kindly warns us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;  for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6: 19-21 NASB

How then, can we break the habit of getting caught up in the number cycle? We can begin by recognizing when we’re allowing ourselves to be controlled by them. For instance, when I find myself discouraged by numbers of followers or listeners, I tell myself that God can change the world with one individual, and if even one individual is encouraged or inspired, then all of the hard work was worth it. I can tell myself that my worth is not defined by likes on social media. When I’m worried about my bank account, I can remember all of the times the Lord has provided for me before and how He promises He will take care of all of my needs according to His riches in glory. My worth and security cannot be tied to how much money I have, my weight, or my number of followers.

It’s all about a perspective shift. Numbers are only numbers after all. They’re only measurements. They are not the treasure, and they will always disappoint. The treasure is Christ, and He means for us to enjoy the gifts we have been given, including our bodies, our friends, and our resources. Let’s not let the numbers take away our joy.

Pause: Breathe in and breathe out. Focus on the exhale. Read the above Scripture passage from Matthew and meditate on it for a few minutes.

Renew: Is there a place in your life where you are placing too much focus on numbers? What do those numbers represent for you? How have they become an idol or a kind of bondage for you?

Next: If you find that there is an area in your life that numbers have become too important to you, pray this week about how the Lord can change your perspective. Seek out a source of accountability for yourself so you don’t have to carry it alone.

May we store up treasure in heaven and enjoy the gifts we’ve been given!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Look at Me, Look at Me!

I am not proud of it, but I can admit that I am a people pleaser at heart.  I mean I really, really, really desire recognition and approval. Thankfully, I am aware of this unhealthy bent in my personality. Even so, I find myself falling into the trap of worrying what people think much more often than I would like.

Case in point:  a few weeks ago, a professional post was made about me on social media. I felt the need to keep checking how many people had “liked” or even more hopefully, “loved”  the post.  A few hours passed, and the response was lackluster.

How many likes we receive is not a reflection of our worth or value

Two sides of my brain warred with each other.  The rational side said things like, “You know that your value doesn’t come from Facebook posts.  Instagram is not an accurate reflection of who you are and what you are capable of.”

The irrational side of my brain, argued back, “It does too matter. People are on social media all the time.  Surely they’ve seen this post by now. If I had the right kind of professional reputation people would be liking that post.”

Before the war could get too far out of hand, I prayed about it.  Almost immediately, I looked at my phone’s Bible app, and would you believe it?  The verse of the day was Galatians 1:10.

Am I saying this now to win the approval of people or God?  Am I trying to please people?  If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.  Galatians 1:10 ESV

Not often do I get a response that quickly from a prayer, but I was so thankful that day that God’s response was immediate and on target.  Point taken. It’s not people’s approval I should be looking for, but His. Thankfully, as His daughter, I know that I already have His approval.  If there’s a refrigerator in Heaven, my picture is hanging on it.  I know I am loved deep in my bones.  How can I know that I have his approval?  Acts 13:39 says: “everyone who believes in Jesus receives God’s approval.”

No Facebook post can compete with that.

Acts 13:39 GW

Even knowing I have God’s approval, I know that I will fight this battle until the day I die, because the battle for approval is really about my own pride. The minute I think I have won the battle, it arises again through a new situation.

I’m not the only one who struggles with the battle for approval. People-pleasing is a common struggle.  Although often it is unhealthy, the root of it springs from a very pure and healthy need: to be loved, to be valued, and to be approved.

To deny that need is not the answer.  I cannot win the battle by saying, “I just don’t care what anyone thinks.”  I would be lying to myself.  However, I can shift my thinking by reframing the thought to, “God approves of me, and that’s what matters.”

He is the most important factor by far, but He created us to be loved by people as well.  His church is made up of people, and He calls them His body. Maybe anonymous strangers on Facebook don’t love me, but my tribe does, and they matter.

An epilogue to my story:  later that evening I checked that post again. By then, it had multiple likes and a few shares. Those shares came from my closest friends and family, announcing to the social media world how proud they were of my accomplishments.

I can also receive affirmation from those who know me best and love me, faults and all.  Besides God, they are my biggest supporters and advocates.  At the end of the day, they’ve got my back, and that is a very good feeling.

Pause: Take a deep breath and exhale.  Read over Acts 13:39 (above) a few times.  Close your eyes and meditate on what this verse means to you.

Renew: Read Galatians 1:10 (above) again.  Do you find that you are often struggling to please people?  If so, think about the underlying needs that are causing this.  Paul says, “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.”  Consider why pleasing people could be at odds with being Christ’s servant.

Next: This week, when you find yourself noticing that you want to be liked, to be approved of, or to be validated, take stock of the underlying motivation.  Is it healthy or unhealthy?  If unhealthy, start talking back to those thoughts: “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.”  Choose to remember those who do approve of you, particularly Jesus, and revel in it for a moment before moving on with your day.

May we know that we are loved and keep our eyes focused on what matters.

Pause, Renew, Next!