How can you quantify life?

I learned a lot about research in my music therapy education. Research steers science and medicine. It proves things, which results in change in practice and policy. It’s crucial in music therapy because it legitimizes what we do. There are two kinds of research studies: qualitative and quantitative. In the simplest definition, qualitative studies record natural behaviors, observations in narrative form, experiences, interviews, that sort of thing. Quantitative studies can be summed up in one word: numbers. Quantitative studies result in statistics, facts, and clean bar graphs. For obvious reasons, quantitative research garners faster acceptance and change than qualitative research.

It’s much harder to conduct quantitative research studies in music therapy than qualitative studies because of the nature of the work. Especially in my field – hospice. Thankfully, researchers have come up with scales that can measure what would be considered qualitative data, but it’s still looked at as subjective and soft data. I can’t easily produce numbers and percentages in my work, but I can tell you lots of stories that would make a case for what I do.

quantitative-research

I spent a good part of my weekend watching the sessions from the IF Gathering that was held in Austin this weekend. It was just for women and all the speakers were women.

(Side note: What I loved the most was the complete omission of talking about how to be a godly woman, how we are different from men, what our role is…there was NONE of that. It was just about being a child of God and being obedient. I loved that. I am so tired of us putting gender before our faith in our identities. I’m not a woman who is a christian. I am a christian who happens to be a woman.)

One talk was about how we need to stop “measuring up.” We need to stop comparing ourselves to each other. The speaker said that if we judge another, we are usurping God. The talk began with the idea that the church has become an enterprise, or rather, a business. Businesses work with data. Businesses look at the bottom line. Businesses make transactions. Businesses don’t work for free.

We deal with numbers all the time, everywhere. Time, money, weather, miles, weight, spending, earning. I can get the 8 oz for 2.99 or I can save and get the 16 oz for 4.99. Numbers and measures are necessary for civilized life. Especially those two scoops of coffee grounds I put in my coffee maker each night for the next morning. Numbers guide businesses, weather patterns, sports, accomplishments. But are we using numbers in parts of life that we shouldn’t be? Are we trying to measure things that cannot be measured? Are we trying to quantify our lives?

I recently had a conversation with someone about common denominators. In a business, the common denominator is the product, the deliverable, the bottom line. In a church, the common denominator is Jesus. What is the common denominator in life? Survival? The American dream?  For whatever the common denominator is, that is what you serve. For me – someone who believes that God is the Creator – I consider Him to be the common denominator in life. We all come into this life the same way and we all die. What does this have to doing with numbers? We are all God’s, therefore we are all enough. We all measure the same.

So then, if we don’t compare and measure, how do we know if we’re doing a good job? Jesus. His life is the only one we can measure ours to. Nicky Gumbel, in an Alpha talk, used the analogy of a column, floor to ceiling, representing all of humanity, with the “bad” people at the very bottom and the “good” people at the top. Where would you put a serial killer? Where would you put Mother Teresa? Where would you put yourself? How do you measure up? Then, Nicky asked, where do you put Jesus? The answer? Jesus is not on the column. Jesus is the sky.

Jesus is love. How do you quantify love? Isn’t there a song in RENT about this? How do you quantify compassion, or humility, or obedience? When we try to quantify our lives using measures that are not designed for the human spirit we end up with skewed results that do not provide the answers we were looking for. In research terms this is called validity: Did the study actually answer the question that was asked? But when we use those results as a measurement for our lives we fall short. We are disappointed. We are hard on ourselves for not being better people.

Most things in this life that matter cannot be measured. Nor should they be. I just watched a documentary on a hospice program in a prison. Prisoners can volunteer with hospice and take care of their fellow inmates at the end of life. In an interview, the warden said, “You can provide skills and trades but then all you have is smarter criminals.” He said that the only thing that will change them is a change in morality. You can measure skills and trades through results, you cannot easily measure morality.

The speaker at the IF Gathering said, “Grace is the only one-way love that ends the transactional business model.” Grace cannot be measured, nor should it be. Grace doesn’t expect anything back. That idea doesn’t fit in our capitalist business culture. Very seldom is something given without expecting a return. You can’t record that data. It doesn’t provide statistics.

Numbers are important, but numbers are quantitative. And human beings are not. We are applying quantitative measures to our lives, but our lives are full of qualitative data. Instead of comparing and measuring up to the next person, remember that we all have the same common denominator. And He is fighting for us. He just wants us to be. He wants us to take care of each other – in a way that can’t be measured, nor should it be. Conversations, prayers, meals, relationships. If we constantly try to quantify our lives we will be left behind with the measuring tape. Abide in Jesus and reach out your hand so that others can feel the love of Him through you. And expect nothing in return.

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2 comments on “How can you quantify life?

  1. pulpfictionme says:

    I volunteer with hospice and don’t know how people do it without God. That sounds like an awesome conference and glad you had a great experience! Although my gender role is different, I tend to all outside the typical male gender role. Every activity I do ends up being all women. Not because I mean to, just between hospice and other volunteer activities that is how the cards fall. It does get frustrating when put into a box of “this is how you should act” when our love for God should always come first, and allow Him to tell us who we are in Christ. Anyways, great article and look forward to reading more 🙂

  2. Andi says:

    What was the name of that documentary? I’d love to watch it!

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