May 8, 2009

What's in a Number?

Kaylea was more than visibly upset a couple of weeks ago, which isn’t saying much—she is my drama queen, after all. But it was morning, and she is definitely not a morning person. Almost every morning, she complains about toenails that hurt and bizarre headaches, and that she’s worried about this, that, and the other at school. She also concerns herself with ridiculous and highly improbable future contingencies, “But what if…but what if…but what if?”

But this was something different—math. She has always been good with numbers in general, and was worried about a math test that day. The test was on the basic geometric shapes—circles and spheres, pyramids and cones, squares and cubes. They had been learning the shapes for a few days, and completed some practice sheets. She started digging through her backpack, pulled out her folder, and found the practice sheet that validated her present fears. There were thirty problems on the page. She missed two.

28/30 correct.

93% right.

I was relatively successful in suppressing my laughter, encouraged her, and helped her understand the 2 that she missed. Then I remembered being in fourth grade, crying because I received a “B” for my handwriting grade. I remembered wanting to get all the questions “right.”

Junior high and high school reinforced my obsessive-compulsive drive for good grades and perfect papers. I loved papers with “A” or “-0” written on them, and especially loved the ones where the teacher took the time to write “well done” or put a happy face. My small world and my fragile ego was centered on numerical affirmation. But, what really is in a number?

The good news is that a decade and a half later, I know better, right?

I mean, if only six youth show up for an event, then I am thrilled at the opportunity to share life with them and celebrating the moment, right?

If I’m only able to raise $30 to help build a clean water well in Africa or in the local walk for the homeless, then I’m thrilled to be helping others, right?

If I get invited to sing at a concert, and I’m related to a majority of the people in attendance, then we’ll all have fun singing together, right?

If I go on a bike ride, it doesn’t matter how far or how fast I ride, but how much fun I had on the ride, right?


As USAmericans, we are obsessed with numbers. Numbers represent faster, newer, bigger, better, more. Numbers represent success, achievement, accomplishment, triumph. Numbers shape our egos and identities, forming us as competitive and production-oriented people.

But the kingdom that Jesus brings is not concerned with numbers.

The kingdom is all about relationships. It is impossible to quantify a relationship.

Jesus lived and taught that Love is the greatest power in the universe, and Love will transform the world. You can’t place a number on love. “Well, today I loved about a 5, but I’m hoping for a 7 tomorrow.” Makes just about as much sense as me stepping foot into a barber shop.

Part of our obsession with numbers is the misconception that in order to be great, we must do big things. But Mother Theresa said it best.

“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

I hate that as a second grader, Kaylea is already concerned about grades and numbers. I hate that numbers dominate discussions about weather and sports and church.

Numbers will never capture the beauty of a deer running alongside me as I ride my bike.

Numbers will never describe the thrilling sensation of a home run, a double play, or a well-timed strike out.

Numbers cannot do justice to my daughters’ smiles or eyes.

And numbers cannot describe the mystery or power of love.


Jennifer H said...

It is interesting that we do our best to quantify everything. Most things should never be quantified.

Kaylea can certainly never be quantified. She's far too quality for that!

Cory said...

I fight the numbers battle in my head all the time. It's a struggle, but you're exactly right.

Also, I'm always happen to attend any of your concerts as a non-relative.