The Devil in the Numbers

One of my life goals was to write a book and have it published. It took fourteen years of sustained effort to accomplish that goal. During that time, I treated writing as a 20 hour/week job. I wrote two novels, was the founding member of two writing critique groups (which meet regularly to this day), found an agent, worked on my craft, said goodbye to my agent, and tried to stay abreast of the changes in the publishing world. During this time I was also the solo pastor of a church, so I wrote and delivered weekly sermons.

When I received the contract from Eerdmans Publishing, I was thrilled! I was so happy and so humbled. Eerdmans is a reputable publisher, and they thought my words were worth putting between the covers of a book.

The book that was published (December 2012) is about a pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine. The book explores both the outer pilgrimage (holy sites/conversations/food) and the inner pilgrimage (faith questions/spiritual growth/prayer). A pilgrimage is never really complete because the life of faith is always a journey. Do we keep our pilgrim heart open?

The last line of my book is: It will be up to us whether or not we remain pilgrims.

We titled the book Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land. You could buy it on Amazon, how cool is that? You could buy it on Kindle!

Speaking of Amazon — gosh they make it easy to keep tabs on your numbers: books sold, ranking within categories, ranking overall.

My friends, I have new appreciation for the old saying: The devil is in the numbers. I feel a bit bedeviled!

How is my book selling? How does it compare to other books? Is it good enough? Those numbers can make me question my value.

And just like that: the heart of gratitude slips away!

I don’t want to become an ungrateful person, taking the gifts I’ve been given for granted. Being able to write a book, and to publish that book has been an enormous gift.

It will be up to us whether or not we remain pilgrims. Huh. So it turns out that one of the next steps on my pilgrimage is to learn not to judge myself by an external standard, not even this shining thing called an Amazon ranking.

It’s surprising how difficult this is for my pilgrim heart. After all, I’ve learned similar lessons before. I’ve resisted other numbers by which the world wants to measure us: the make and model of the car we drive, the number of carats in our diamond ring, our dress size. None of these numbers measure the value or worth of our lives.

Right now my pilgrim heart needs to come to terms with this new number that is part of my existence (unless I choose to ignore it). (EDITED TO ADD: Many of you have reminded me that there are many sales rankings, and Amazon is just one venue. Very true!)

My work in progress these days is to remind myself who I am and why I matter. To the devil with the numbers!

What numbers are the devil to you?


2 responses to “The Devil in the Numbers”

  1. This is a lesson I have to learn over and over and over again. I couldn’t care less about carats of the diamond in my ring, but those blog stat numbers . . . and Facebook likes . . . and Twitter followers . . . Lord, in your mercy . . .

    1. Joanna, I looked at your blog, love your sense of humor. We need it in the writing and preaching biz! Thanks for reading and commenting.

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