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Be better than your inspirational quotes.

What your phone background says about you.


I always remember being at my friend Max’s house growing up. His parents were sort of a strange combination: his mother was sweet and lively and generous, while his dad was standoffish and not as engaging. As I aged through high school, I was better able to see that Max’s dad was the type who played video games and distracted himself from the reality of his suburban life.

It was a classic case of a couple who got married young and as they aged, grew apart rather than together. It’s also worth pointing out that I’m filling in some gaps with my imagination and exaggerating for the sake of this piece. I hope I’m way off.

The thing I’ll never forget though, is the sign that hung in their dining room. It was a Hobby Lobby “hand-painted” sign which read “All because two people fell in love.”

Even as a high schooler, I recall reading the sign and thinking, Really? All because two people fell in love they got to live in the suburbs and endure a mismatched marriage?

Or how many people have you seen whose phone background is a quote from Tony Robins or Gary V, encouraging hard work and dedication? How many stressed-out dentists offices have you been in with a picture of a mountain and a motivational sentence?

Are any of these things bad? Of course not.
Are they often removed from our day-to-day reality though? Perhaps.

We live in a soundbyte culture, where rather than deep learning we settle for a condensed sentence or two and let this mantra carry us through our work, romance or life. I get it. You want to meditate on this idea or remind yourself what you’re working toward, so these can serve as a good reminder.

The only risk in elevating inspirational quotes in our lives is that they remain as just that: words on a screen or a sign from Hobby Lobby. A cute wooden sign doesn’t heal a marriage just as a quote from Arnold doesn’t a bodybuilder make.

I’ve learned this myself as a pastor and speaker: There is often a disconnect between what we agree with and how we live our lives. I’ll preach about patience and turn around and lose my temper in traffic. People will “amen!” a sermon on humility and then continue posting glamorous selfies on Instagram.

Our memorization of inspirational quotes doesn’t change our lives; our application of the concept does.

I want to know how many people have a Gary V quote as their phone background and then just scan Instagram during their shift at work. Hustle is a nice idea until you have to do it day in and day out. Same with marriage quotes and any other wort of quote we publicize and share.

Perhaps it’s because of my background in Bible college and seminary, but it’s the equivalent of popping a verse out of context and painting it on your gym wall. Sure, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” from Philippians 4 is a great motivational quote, but this application misses the point in two ways: It takes it out of context which somewhat conflates the argument Paul is actually building, and it deflates much of the power of that argument.

It is richer to have a deep understanding of a concept, like Paul’s case for endurance in trials, rather than to take a single verse out of context. Our thoughts affect our actions which become our lives, so wouldn’t it be best to inform our thoughts? If your thoughts are nothing more than soundbytes ripped out of context — whether it’s the Apostle Paul or Gary V — then your life will likely reflect your quote-deep philosophy. But if we take the time to understand deep concepts, the rationale beneath the condensed passages, I contend that we will lead richer, more informed lives.

So may we be better than our inspirational quotes. May we not settle for the seven word saviors, but grow in our knowledge and understanding of deep concepts. And may we apply them to our lives, not letting them remain on our walls or phone screens.


P.S. Feel free to make the title of this piece your phone background.

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