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I leaped out of bed when the alarm signaled it was time to wake up and hit the pavement. Ten minutes later, I was outside pressing “start running” on my fitness app and putting in my earbuds to listen to a worship music playlist. I was excited to run because the cool, crisp mornings between winter and spring are my favorite time of year. Although the April sky was still dark, threads of orange and purple streaked across it as the sun rose. My heart was light and joyful despite the unsettling times we had all been recently thrust into as the pandemic brought the world to a screeching halt.

Around mile four I began a conversation with God. I thanked him for my life, family, work, ministry, friendships, and the gift of healthy lungs that allow me to run. I prayed for wisdom to carry me and my team through an unknown future—one that required helping churches around the world figure out how to operate without gathering in a building. As the head of global faith partnerships at Facebook, I had received more calls, texts, emails, and direct messages from pastors and church leaders during the first weeks of COVID-19 than I had in the three years prior.

As I reached mile six, a favorite song came on, and I did a run-dance on the sidewalk as drivers-by looked at me in confusion. I punched the air and clapped with the beat while singing, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart! Trust in the Lord with all your mind! Trust in the Lord with all your strength! Lean not on your own understanding!” The upbeat tempo always got me pumped, but I had no idea that an hour later my trust in the Lord would be put to the test.

I made it home just in time to give my seven- and ten-year-old sons sweaty hugs and my husband a sweaty kiss before they left for the day. Then I started my post-run routine of showering, stretching, making a pot of tea, and having some quiet time with the Lord. I was looking forward to my Bible study time because the cancelation of many of my speaking engagements allowed me to study for the fun of it without the pressure of preparing to give a message.

The Holy Spirit had led me to take an interest in the life of Jonathan, King Saul’s son. A lot was written about his father, and even more was written about his best friend, David, but I had never looked closely at Jonathan. I started reading in 1 Samuel 14, which tells the story of how Jonathan waged an attack on a Philistine outpost with only his young armor-bearer by his side. As Jonathan made his way to Mikmash to fight two dozen Philistines by himself, his father, the king, rested comfortably under a pomegranate tree in Gibeah with six hundred soldiers. The juxtaposition of the two scenes was striking.

When Jonathan and his young armor-bearer reached the outpost, they saw that the Philistines were positioned on a cliff. This put Jonathan and his armor-bearer at a strategic disadvantage because it robbed them of the element of surprise. The climb to the Philistines’ position would also use precious energy they needed for the battle. Nevertheless, Jonathan turned to his armor-bearer and said, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6).

I repeated that last line to myself: “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” Something about it resonated. When the Lord is for us, we can be outnumbered but are never unprotected.

I read a couple more chapters and then decided it was time to start my day. I quickly checked my Facebook page to respond to comments and messages and then did the same on Instagram. Although I normally go straight to my Instagram notifications, that day I caught a glimpse of my newsfeed first. And that’s when the downward emotional spiral started.

Friend 1: Hey, friends! I’m so excited to announce that I’m joining the speaker lineup for Susie Sacred’s Full Blossom Conference. Visit the link in my bio to register, and meet me online next month with an incredible roster of speakers!

Friend 2: I’m beyond ecstatic to share that I’ll be speaking at the Full Blossom Conference next month with Susie Sacred and an amazing roster of the best speakers across every sector. Will you be there? Comment below to let me know!

Friend 3: Next month is going to be epic! Join me and other amazing speakers at the Full Blossom Conference with Susie Sacred online next month. I have a message for you. Tag a friend and register at fullblossom.com!

After scrolling for what felt like an eternity, I counted no fewer than eight friends posting the exciting news that they were joining an amazing roster of speakers for a major women’s conference that was going virtual because of the pandemic. Since I don’t follow many people on social media, it seemed like the only thing in my newsfeed was an avalanche of exciting announcements about speaking at the Full Blossom Conference.

“Why wasn’t I invited to speak?” I asked aloud. “It’s like Susie asked everyone we mutually know except me.”

With each new post, I felt what can only be described as the stab of an emotional ice pick to the heart. My mind was clouded with hurt, so I stopped scrolling, closed Instagram, and looked out my living room window into a beautiful day. The skies were blue and filled with fluffy white clouds. Birds bounded from limb to limb on the tree just outside my window. But the beauty outside couldn’t overcome the ugliness churning inside me.

I was scheduled to join a video conference, but I was so distracted by confusion and pain that I went to the kitchen to make another pot of tea. As I stirred the honey into my teacup and watched the golden sweetness dissolve into the hot water, I was flooded with “why” questions.

Why was I left out?

Why was I not considered?

Why was I overlooked?

Why was I not worthy of an invitation?

An old, familiar hurt resurfaced inside—the hurt of being unwanted.

I’ve had a full speaking schedule for years, despite never once advertising myself as a speaker or asking to speak at events. And I receive more speaking invitations for business and church conferences than I can accept. I’ve been invited to speak on multiple continents and keynoted major conferences across the United States and abroad. Yet, somehow, not being invited to speak at this conference bothered me.

I’d heard of Full Blossom before and had never desired to speak at it, but after I saw many of the people in my ministry circle invited to speak there, my exclusion catalyzed a self-worth inquisition. Comparison makes what never mattered before the thing that matters most.

As I sat down at my desk and opened my laptop, I felt a magnetic pull back to Instagram. I had back-to-back video conferences every thirty minutes for the next seven hours, so I set my phone down and logged on for the first meeting. Within ten minutes, I had discreetly unlocked my phone, opened Instagram, and continued the scroll. An irresistible and poisonous thread tugged on my heart and distracted me from work.

I went to Susie’s profile and saw post after post of her gushing about each speaker: how incredible they were and how perfect the conference would be because of them. My chest tightened, and a lump grew in my throat as I watched a video of her enthusiastically naming several of my friends as speakers. Although she spoke about them, my heart heard her speaking to me: Nona, I know who you are. I’ve seen what you do. And you’re not good enough. You’re not what I’m looking for. You’re just average.

I had not only constructed the full-blown, play-by-play narrative for why Susie hadn’t invited me but also decided I needed to unfollow everyone she had invited to speak. My heart felt like it would shatter if I saw one more friend’s post about the awesome conference I wasn’t invited to speak at. I didn’t want to wade through endless reminders that they were speaking at the conference and I wasn’t.

“Why did she pick everyone around me but not me?” I asked aloud again. The more I thought about it, the more my hurt turned to anger. But in my anger, I heard the Holy Spirit ask a different question: “Why does it matter?”

“Why does it matter?” I responded incredulously. “Because everyone who’s anyone will be speaking there. And I’m not. This will be the largest online women’s ministry gathering of the year, and I will be absent.”

“So you think you matter only because of the speaking invitations you receive?” the Holy Spirit asked.

“No,” I said. “I know I matter to you. I just . . . I just . . .” I stammered as the weight of the truth settled on me.

“Go ahead,” the Holy Spirit prompted, “say it.”

“I just want to matter to them too,” I whispered, tears forming in the corners of my eyes.

“I know, Nona. You want to matter to them because you’re insecure,” the Holy Spirit said matter-of-factly.

“Insecure?” I responded with disbelief. “I’m not insecure! Far from it. I know who I am in you. I preach about it regularly. Besides, I have everything I could ever want and more than I could ever have imagined. I’m definitely not insecure!”

With love and conviction, the Holy Spirit said, “Nona, you think people are insecure if they don’t like how they look or don’t like what they have or don’t like what they do. Those are expressions of insecurity, but they’re not the root of insecurity. The root of insecurity is when your identity is built on an insecure foundation.”

As I considered what the Holy Spirit said, I felt defensive. “My identity is secured to you, Lord. I know what the Word says about who I am, and I believe it. How can you say I’m insecure?”

“Yes, you know what my Word says, and you also believe it,” affirmed the Holy Spirit. “But knowledge and belief are not the same as faith. As long as you know my Word in your head and believe it in your heart but don’t practice it daily, your identity will continue to be secured to the affirmation of others. You have built your identity on people’s approval. People show their approval with likes on social media, but I demonstrated my approval through love on the cross. I approved of you before you were formed in your mother’s womb. And my approval is unchanging.”

The truth in these words hit me like a Mack truck. So much of my life had been spent trying to win people’s approval, and maybe yours has too:

That time in high school when you were one of the “it” girls and got invited to all the best parties and hangouts—until you were no longer invited. A wealthy new girl started attending the school and your friends decided there wasn’t enough room in the clique for both of you, so they kicked you out to make room for her.

Those months when your calendar was filled with business travel and making deals on multiple continents while wining and dining with the powerful—until, without explanation, your calls started going to voicemail and your emails went unreturned. A new company emerged on the scene, and everyone wanted to do deals with them instead.

Those years when you were your pastor’s favorite Sunday school teacher and he placed you in charge of the entire Sunday school department—until he decided your style was outdated and brought in a skinny-jeans-wearing kid with a mohawk and a TikTok following to “get things back on track.”

The approval of others is never permanent, and it often depends on variables that are beyond our control. People use things such as height, weight, wealth, popularity, theology, position, or political affiliation as “approval filters” to determine whether we’re good enough for them. Yet God approved of us before there was anything to approve of. God created us on purpose, with purpose.

The Holy Spirit said, “Nona, the reason you’re hurt by not being invited to speak at that conference is because you measure your worth based on how much people approve of you compared to others. When you aren’t secured to the stable foundation of who I say you are, you drift with the shifting currents of others’ opinions about you. When you drift from me, you have to secure your identity to people’s opinions to stay afloat. Your insecurity didn’t start this morning. You’ve been insecure most of your life.”

I sat in silence with my eyes closed, reflecting on what the Holy Spirit had said. Before I knew it, my eyes were brimming with tears. The Holy Spirit was right—as always.

Somewhere along the line, I had surrendered my purpose for performative applause. God had valued me before I even had the ability to perform my way into his love. Though God determined I was worth dying for at my worst (Romans 5:8), I made the mistake of conflating my eternal, intrinsic value with likes, follows, shares, and speaking invitations. And the craziest part of it all is that no one knew. Not even me. It happened subtly, over time.

With every larger platform I stepped onto, my heart had slowly detached from the secure foundation of God’s approval and attached itself to the insecure foundation of other people’s approval, creating insecurity.

“Lord, you’re right,” I said. “You say in your Word that people honor you with their lips but their hearts are far from you. I now understand what you mean. I have honored you with my lips, but I’m not honoring you with my life. Lord, I need your help. Please deliver me from insecurity.”

“Nona, what you’re asking will require more than you expect, but if you trust me and obey me, I will help you get to freedom. You must no longer look to others for approval; you must look only to me.”

“Lord, I’m ready,” I said.

“No, you’re not. But that’s what my grace is for.”

Just as Jonathan was outnumbered against the Philistines, we can feel overwhelmed by seeming to never measure up. But the same divine grace that enabled his victory is the same grace that enables our victory over insecurity too.

Taken from KILLING COMPARISON by Nona Jones. Copyright © September 27, 2022 by Nona Jones. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.

Nona Jones is a rare combination of preacher, business executive, author, and entrepreneur. In her day job she serves as the Director of North America Community Partnerships andGlobalFaithPartnerships atMeta, the company formerly known as Facebook. She is the best selling author of two books; Success from the Inside Out, chronicling her unlikely story of success after a childhood filled with physical and sexual abuse, andFrom Social Media to Social Ministry, the globally acclaimed guide to digital discipleship for churches.

She and her husband,Pastor Tim, lead Open Door Church in Gainesville, FL and are the proud parents of two boys, Timothy, Jr. and Isaac, and one girl, Golden doodle Shiloh.

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