It was the e-mail from Goodreads.com that completed the picture. The message was a link to a review of my “year in books” in 2013. I was surprised to find that I had read 53 books in just a year!
The site suggested I share the enviable achievement with my friends on Facebook and Twitter, and I gladly (albeit unwittingly) complied. I was already in too deep by the time I realized what was happening to my heart.
You see, I was proud of my achievement, and the congratulatory likes and comments on Facebook made me even prouder. I remember at some point suggesting that I will beat that record in 2014. But “God stopped me” (for lack of a more kosher, calvinistic alternative) and I quickly retracted that desire.
I found myself asking what I was doing. Since when did reading books become a contest? Why all this sudden bibliophile navel-gazing? And while a lot of reading is good for you, who said that reading the most books within the shortest time is healthy, let alone something to brag about?
Reminds me of a joke by Brian Regan, a stand-up comedian: “I started taking speed – reading classes,” he says. “At the end of the course, I could read 20 pages per minute… but my comprehension plummeted!”
Think about it, sometimes keeping tab on some achievements ends up working against those very achievements. It is one thing to give charitably, it is another thing to keep track of your acts of charity. It is one thing to post an encouraging status update, but another thing altogether to start counting and hoping the update will get more “likes” than your previous one.
The human heart is indeed an idol factory, as John Calvin once aptly put it, and mine is no exception. More than once I have found myself clicking on his greatness Tim Challies’ Goodreads page, and wishing I could read as many books as he has (he is at 1,523 read books at the moment, and that’s just on Goodreads). I often find myself secretly praying I will beat his record — not that anyone’s counting.
I seldom I stop to think what difference it will make in my life, or what it will mean to God’s kingdom, that I read more books than Tim Challies. But isn’t that how sin works? It is not rational. It keeps us pursuing (with all our might) feeble vanities and pleasures, pointless distractions of the heart and mind.
May God deliver us from the idolatry of metrics. May we learn to lose count of our good deeds and noble endeavors, not because they have become too many to count, but because we have realized that good deeds and noble endeavors were made to count, not to be counted.
For the fame of God’s name.