It’s the day after Christmas, the first day in the last week of the year. I used to dislike this week intensely. For years I found it to be one of the most depressing times of the year. I understand the psychology of that. There’s a natural let-down after all of the bustle and beauty of Christmas. No matter how wonderful the holiday might be, it never quite measures up to all of our expectations, and even if it does–it ends. This time-trapped world is broken and life often disappoints us.
Thankfully, the New Year is just around the bend with the potential to give us hope, a new start, and fresh expectations. It’s a time for making goals and resolutions, and that’s another reason why I used to hate this time of year. I remember one year when it was especially bad. Before we left for Christmas break, our school guidance counsellor put up a bulletin board–I think it was a Christmas tree. Beneath the tree was an envelope containing construction paper ornaments. Students and teachers were encouraged to take an ornament and write upon it a goal for the coming year. The thing made me physically ill and ridiculously, unreasonably angry. I was tired. I was over worked. I was broke. I was miserable, unappreciated, misunderstood, and bitter. I toyed with the idea of taking an ornament and scribbling the word “survive,” but I ended up skipping the exercise altogether.
The irony of this is that I was actually very ill. Before the next summer I would be diagnosed with stage four lymphoma and survival would, indeed, become my goal for 2007. Because the number one lesson God taught me through my cancer experience was GRACE, I know that my feelings about that bulletin board stemmed from my pride–my inability to accept the fact that I didn’t measure up. I was trying and trying to prove my worth, when all the worth I needed was freely offered to me in Jesus. By grace, and grace alone, I survived the year.
GRACE was my number one cancer lesson, but a corollary of that lesson began to get hold of me around a year after my diagnosis. I was beginning to understand that my life was a gift from God. If that was true, I must be responsible to use it wisely, thoughtfully, and with guidance from the Giver. I picked up an old, green leather journal and started keeping track of my life. That summer I made a list of books I read. The title of the page is, “Books read Summer 2008.” I enjoyed seeing that list grow, so I continued into the school year. In a different color pen I added “-Dec. 2008” to the top of the page. The list grew to seventeen books and I learned that recording accomplishments can be rewarding.
When January rolled around I turned to a clean page and wrote, “Goals for 2009.” There are ten of them listed. Some have check marks because I accomplished them, others are crossed out because I didn’t. That year there were five checks, four cross-outs, and a “close” written in the margin beside my goals. I continued to keep a list of the books I read along with a simple journal for most of the year and a more detailed account of my two trips to Europe. That was an epic travel year!
In 2010 I divided my goals into three categories: spiritual, physical, and personal. There were fourteen goals listed altogether. The category with the most check marks is “personal.” That’s the year I started this blog. It’s funny to me to look at that list because I wrote my password for the blog beside the goal. I guess I was afraid I might not be very consistent and I wanted to be sure I would be able to get into it later in the year when I was feeling guilty. That was never an issue; blogging became an important outlet in my life.
The next year I started moving unmet goals into the new year. Grace was teaching me that failure is not a permanent condition. That year I added a new evaluation system. There are checks, check pluses, and check minuses in the margin of my goals for 2011. It’s fun to see that some of the checks are recorded beside goals that were crossed out on past lists.
2012 was a very hard year, but it’s very interesting to note that most of my success that year was in the spiritual category. I was learning not to hide from the hard times. That’s when God comes closest. By 2013 I had learned not to make my goals too high to reach. That’s a biggish lesson. Goals should be tough enough to challenge, but not so hard that they end up being discouraging.
This week it’s time to evaluate the goals I made a year ago. I’ve learned over time not to leave this entirely until the last week of the year. Checking on my goals in May and September helps me to stay on track. One of the trends I have noticed in the course of this journey is the tendency to never meet my physical goals. Goal setting has improved my spiritual and personal life tremendously, but it seemed like every year I made the same physical goals and every year I failed to meet them. I decided last year that this needed to change, and by GRACE, as I look over my goals page for 2014, the physical category is getting all check pluses. I’ve exceeded my goals for steps and distance. I weigh eleven pound less than my goal weight and my newest pants are two sizes smaller than the goal size I recorded last January 1. I’m in better shape than I’ve been in since I was…well, maybe I’m in better shape than ever. On the downside, I didn’t meet my 45 book reading goal. I’m sitting at 35. I might make it to 37 or 38 if I have time this week. My blogging has suffered as well, and I don’t even want to think about my journaling. Running has taught me a lot about prayer. I also understand scripture passages about endurance and courage and faithfulness and the race of life in a new and experiential way, but I miss the time I used to put into going DEEPER.
Goal setting has taught me many lessons. It’s provided focus and helped me not to waste the precious time God has given. It’s also shown me that life is full of seasons. Some years are for prayer and contemplation, others are for action and hard work. I don’t know yet exactly what my goals will be for 2015. I’m making that a matter of much thought and prayer this week, but I am oh-so-thankful for the lessons I’ve learned so far and for this time to pause, evaluate, consider, and plan. Instead of depression, I find myself filled with thankfulness, expectation, and excitement. “Goal-setting with GRACE” has worked much better than “resolution-making with guilt” for me. What goals are you thinking about for 2015?