Instead of New Goals for a New Year…Try this by Richard Dahlstrom

Goal Setting can steal peace from your soul

I like goals that are measurable and have lots of them:  Ski 100k vertical feet in January (now objectively measurable courtesy of a nifty phone app), trim 15 seconds off jogging “per mile” time by the end of February, eat 5 servings of veggies per day (by far the hardest), be consistent in my reading, praying, journaling, blog at least once a week, finish book proposal.

I’m close to throwing all these in the trash though, because I keep adding more and more goals to my life, and the end result is an erosion of peace, especially the kind of peace that is promised by Christ here.  I’m beginning to wonder if all this goal setting isn’t just another carnival, tailor made for type Americans to distract us from things that really matter.  It’s appropriate, of course, to pursue health, and to hone one’s craft, be it writing, music, art, programming, or whatever.  But I’m convinced that the somewhat random objectifying of every pursuit, setting a bar and going after it, is mostly a big distraction.  The truth is that I can meet all those goals and still find myself on the summit of accomplishments, only to realize that I’ve climbed the wrong mountain. To put it another way – I can reach all my goals, and still be far from the life God has in mind for me.

There’s a better way:

1. Begin with a commitment to God’s goal -

God wants us to uniquely embody the risen Jesus in our daily lives.  The essence of the gospel is that Christ came, died, rose, in order to create a vast new family from every tribe and nation, a family that will make an alternative way of living visible in the world right here and now.  This alternative will choose contentment, simplicity, generosity, truth telling, advocacy for those on the margins, peace, care for the earth, and o so much more.  It’s the multifaceted nature of this calling that provides the rub for so many of us, because the vastness of it is so overwhelming that we sometimes throw up our hands in despair, and settle for smaller, more manageable lives.

That’s why the word “uniquely” becomes so important.  God’s given each of us gifts, passions, callings, and contexts, and it falls to each of us to discover these elements and fan them into flame.  This realization allows us to be gracious, as we realize that our calling is our own, not everyone’s.  I’m called to teach, called to write, called to care for the earth through the pursuit of simpler living.  Others are working on global poverty, local poverty, elder care, health care, addiction recovery, gender issues, and o so much more.  If God is building a wall, we each have a part of the wall to build.  That we sometimes view our part as the most important and then waste precious energy advocating for our part by being dismissive of other parts is folly. Each of us is created to make unique contributions, and if mine includes writing and skiing with my neighbors, and yours includes throwing amazing parties and teaching children – let’s celebrate each other!

2. I’ll reach God’s goal through habits of Revelation and Response.   My favorite New Testament passage offers the promise that if we’ll keep showing up, honestly, to receive revelation from our glorious God, the act of showing up will become the basis of our ongoing transformation into the people joyful, generous, unique expressions of Christ God desires each of us to be.

Revelation habits mean that I need, to use Jesus’ language, ‘ears to hear’, for the Bible and real life both remind me that it’s eminently easy to go through life in a fog, not paying attention to what God is trying to say to me.  In our wickedly divided mindset, we’re tempted to think of God’s revelation as coming from the Bible, and then there’s everything else.  Instead, the very Bible to which we appeal, encourages us to learn from creation, conversations with friends, neighbors, co-workers, and current events happening in our world.  The Bible, and our life together in worshipping communities ought to help us calibrate our lives so that we’re better able to see and hear what God is telling us through the many faceted experiences of our daily lives.  In just this past month, conversations with students in Europe, an Austrian Christmas party, a tragic school shooting and the ensuing conversation in America about weapons, Christmas day conversations with family members, and a day of skiing with my wife, and copious reading on the subjects of marriage and sexuality (in preparation of a winter series I’m teaching) have all been sources of revelation inviting, challenging, correcting, convicting, encouraging me in my relationship with God.

By asking “What is God teaching me in this hard conversation, this red light, this glorious sunrise, this doctor’s appointment, this book?”, I’m viewing all of life as revelation, and seeking to be attuned to revelation all the time, instead of only in quiet time.

Response habits mean that I need to digest this revelation, at least a little bit, so that it has the opportunity to actually change the way I live.  It’s no good memorizing large swaths of scripture and living like hell.  It’s no good, either, saying that all of life is revelation, and then not taking intentional steps to allow the revelation to shape you.  That’s why prayer and journaling are important in my life.  Without these elements, I tend to become nothing more than a theological information junky, and Paul warns us about this here and here, even as James warns us about it here.  The point isn’t to become anal about “doing”.  The point is to become sensitive to the Holy Spirit instead of resistant, so that when next steps for me to take are revealed, I take them.

I’m still hoping that I’ll trim some time off my “mile”, and get some vertical feet in on the slopes, but it’s liberating to let go of all that in favor of one supreme goal – allowing Christ to so fill me that more of His life is poured through me in the coming year than happened last year.  May it be so for all of us, knowing that such a pursuit is the very best choice we can make for 2013 since, God knows, the world needs the presence of Christ more than it needs anything.


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