God gets the worst presents. I give him my worries, my fears, my anger. The other day, I was headed into a doctor appointment where I feared bad news. I told God, “Lord, I’m just giving this to you.” Wow, happy birthday, God. Have some unfounded, overly dramatic fear because I love you so much. And then in return, he gave me peace and hopeful expectation, and an “all clear” from the doctor.
God also gets my songs that are too embarrassing to share with humans. And a daily rundown of the things I hope will happen and things I need his help with. He gets a shopping list of things I’m not sure how we’ll pay for. (And I wonder if he’s got a separate list of all the stuff he’s planning to give us that I don’t think to ask for.)
So I really wouldn’t want to be God, because he gets the worst gifts. But then again, maybe it would be nice to God, because he seems perfectly happy to receive them.
Many of us have been drilled on goal-setting as a motivator to propel us from where we are now to where we want to be.
Want to lose weight? Set a goal, break it down and stick with it till you reach it. How many pounds do you want to lose? Create a calorie deficit of 3500 lbs each week and you’ll lose one pound per week (how many people does that actually work for??)
What GPA do you want to get this semester? Identify what grade you need in each class to achieve that. What score do you need on each test? How, when and where will you study?
Goals help us know where we want to go. Using the SMART goal strategy or something like it can clarify what it will take to get there.
Goals can be DEADLY
But what if you never reach your goal? What if you aimed to lose 20 lbs but only lost 12? What if you aimed for straight A’s but got 2 B’s?
Goals can make success too black and white.
“Goals create an ‘either-or’ conflict: either you achieve your goal and are successful or you fail and you are a disappointment.”
James Clear, Atomic Habits
If you were aiming to lose 20 lbs, but only lost 12, you may feel like a failure. But you lost 12 lbs! When do you get to celebrate that?!
SMART goals push you to assign numbers to your success – measurable is the “M” in the acronym.. That way you know if you’ve accomplished your goal. But such an emphasis on reaching a number can nullify the other types of progress you’ve made.
Consider the silver-medal winning Olympian. She set her sights on becoming a gold-medal winning Olympian. Is she a failure because she only reached the silver level? She’s still a world-class athlete and has a tremendous degree of discipline and talent.
She can still aim to become a gold-medal Olympian. But that goal must not be linked with her sense of happiness. Another quote from Clear:
“The implicit assumption behind any goal is this: ‘Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy.’”
Disconnect goals from happiness or feelings of success in order to keep them in their proper place.
Goals can lead to a dead end.
Once you accomplish your goal, what now?
Best case scenario, you achieve your goal in the time you allotted. Then what? Either you set a new goal and start working towards that, or you slide back into your old ways. (Which has happened to me a whole bunch of times!)
Goals focus on the destination. The journey to get there is utilitarian – it’s just a road to get you where you want to be. So you can finally be happy when you get there. See how this is a dangerous mentality? It’s dangerous to your enjoyment along the way!
How to balance the dangers of goal-setting
Use goals to set your course. Use systems to propel yourself in the direction you want to go.
The makeup of your everyday life is more influential than the shiny goal you see glimmering in the future.
Clear would have you ditch goals and focus only on systems. I think there’s a place for goals – to get inspired, to get a picture of where you want to be. But define your ultimate success by your lifestyle, your integrity and your enjoyment of everyday life.
Imagine yourself on a road to a fabulous city. You know you want to live in that city, you’ve always dreamed of it. You’ve specified the penthouse overlooking the water and the sweet jazz club you’ll frequent. Your goal is crystal clear.
Who will you be when you get there? How will the person you’ve become affect your enjoyment of that illustrious goal?
Think of your goals as that city. The systems and habits of your everyday life shape the person you will be when you reach them.
Stay tuned for more on establishing long-lasting systems to become the person you want to be when you arrive.
Finding the good in this day can be like panning for gold.
My son read a story about a family who relocated to Alaska during the Gold Rush to make their fortune. The father was full of confidence that they would find gold and be rich, and the wife came off as the (somewhat whiny) voice of reason, doubting that this plan would work. The kids were excited to go along with it, only disappointed to learn that there’s school in Alaska too.
After weeks of following a rough but marked trail, they found a small town where other gold-seekers had recently settled. A kind but mysterious old man taught them what equipment to buy and showed them a good place to stake their claim. It was just a creek with dark rocks at the bottom, but they kind of glistened. Then they learned that rather than getting started right away, they had to wait till the next season when the creek ran dry to start panning for gold.
The mother’s voice sounded more reasonable and a little triumphant. The father hung on to hope, but was a little less jovial about it. The kids tromped off to school each day, completely expectant that the day for gold would come.
Now imagine that this very day is a stream running cool and clear. Believers in the God of the Bible can know with utmost confidence that there is gold in the stream of this day.
In many cases, one must go to great lengths and sometimes wait for frustrating amounts of time to access it.
You may have to sift through many unpleasant circumstances to mine out the good in this day.
But if we start with the trusting assumption that God has laid out our days ahead of time and imbedded them with good (him being a good God), we will find great riches.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
Contentment means trusting that there is gold – long-lasting, beautiful good – in the life God has given us, even in this day, today.
Don’t underestimate the value of:
A helpful conversation
Your encouraging words to another person
A new thought about God or truth
A small, inward victory – a temptation denied or a wise choice made
A quiet moment of reprieve
An interesting cloud in the sky
A hug from your loved one
A generous action that goes unnoticed by everyone but God