The Trouble with Goals


“Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” —John Lennon

I drank the Kool-Aid at an early age. I grew up with my mother telling me that “God has something special for you to do.” And I believed it. I believed that someday I would cure cancer, or write the Great American Novel, or end a war somewhere.

Even in college, when I ran for the editor of the campus newspaper and lost, I didn’t understand. If God had plans for me, then why wasn’t I winning?

On into my career, I tried to find that one thing that God had for me, and instead started setting goals of my own. I worked for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in communications, and believed that it was my goal to become a communications director in one of the many regional offices around the U.S. and Canada. When that didn’t happen, I went on to hospital public relations, thinking that I would become a PR director at a hospital. Nope. Then I went back to school, and eventually ended up a book and magazine editor at a denominational publishing house.

At last, I felt like I was where I belonged. But where was that one thing God had planned for me? I had the privilege of launching a new national magazine, and finally decided that I had found my place. When it was discontinued after one year, I was stunned. Not only had I poured everything I had into the launch and each subsequent issue, I felt like we were doing something worthwhile. God, where were you?

Even now, when I know better, I realize that my plans are usually not God’s plans. In my own fantasy world, I would teach a few classes and have lots of time to work on my novels. But that’s not what life is about. I teach a full load, serve as webmaster for the University, write and edit an alumni magazine twice a year, and do myriad other things that keep me away from what I consider important. And I have to constantly remind myself that what I consider important is not what God considers important.

For He reminds me of a promise, a pledge, I made 40 years ago in a pasture in Austria when I was a student there. I promised Him that I would follow Him, emphasis on the word follow, wherever He leads. And very often that takes me places I wouldn’t choose to go.

The flip side of that is how God measures success. We think about numbers–people influenced, dollars raised, books sold. God isn’t interested in numbers. All He is interested in one thing. You. And Me. He is willing to pay anything to save you and save me. And while the human tendency is to say that numbers equals success, God isn’t under any such delusion.

So that’s the problem with goals. What keeps me going is looking back on all of those times when I decided to follow God even though I really wanted to head in another direction. Every time–every time, mind you–it has led me to a better place that I would have been otherwise. A good example is that by losing that election for the school newspaper I ended up ending meeting my future wife.

But that’s another story.

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