Why I’m Not Setting Goals This Year
This New Year’s Day I have no resolutions and I’m setting no goals.
I certainly admire those of you who are. For some of you, goal-setting on New Year’s Day is an acknowledgement that you’re not finished yet, that you’re not done with life, that you’re committed to personal growth.
For some of you, goal-setting is your way of fighting against laziness and committing to do something.
Goal-setting is awesome if it gives you the kick in the rear you need to get up and do something with your life and make this new year work for you.
But for someone like me, with my natural anxiety about performance, and my drive to earn value through accomplishment, goal-setting can be a subtle trap.
Goal-setting can be my attempt to control the story God is writing in my life.
Goal-setting can be my way of saying, “I’m not enough—I must do more.”
Goal-setting can be my submission to the pressure of, “Everybody else is doing it and I’m a productive person, too!”
So this New Year, I set no goals. I know God is calling me to faithfulness to walk the road set before me.
As I follow, I expect to be once again surprised at the goals God has for me, His plans for this year that I can never anticipate.
Setting my own goals can distract me from the different direction God has in mind. And there’s a high possibility that my goals will be forgotten by February anyway, and only remembered as an opportunity for self-condemnation.
So instead of setting goals for this New Year, I’m looking back for a moment at the surprising goals God had for me this past year, many of which I would never have envisioned on January 1st a year ago today. That day I was not goal-setting but doing a sixteen-hour road trip to Florida. I think my only goal for my pregnant self then was to get there without stopping to pee too often and before the kids in the back went crazy!
In the twelve months since then, here are how God’s goals for me unfolded:
- Spiritually this year, God gave me a renewed passion for Bible study. Thanks to Jen Wilkin’s book Women of the Word that I studied with my small group this summer, I got a vision of what it means to really study the context, meaning, and purpose of a Bible passage. Instead of this process being dry and academic, I woke up to the idea that this is how I experience freedom in my life. In the past I’ve experienced bondage directly related to the misunderstanding and misapplication of Bible passages. When Bible verses become chains that bind, it’s tempting to ignore the Bible altogether, instead of realizing this: rightly understanding truth is what unlocks those chains and sets me free. I’m genuinely excited about Bible study right now because I’m seeing how it’s connected to the truth and healing I need in my life. I’m not sure what God has next for me spiritually this year, but I’m excited for whatever it is.
- In my marriage this year, I recognized that my desire to control is rooted in fear, that I’m not responsible for my husband but for myself, and that before voicing worry to him (usually in the form of argument) I need to turn it into prayer. Ben and I are committed to our marriage for the long haul, so it just makes practical sense that I should be trying every day to do things that build into my marriage instead of things that tear it down. What kind of marriage am I going to have in ten, twenty, thirty years if my tools of choice for today are argument, control, and silent treatment? Really? So I’ve started to examine my daily practice in marriage a little more—where am I going with this decision I’m making today? Is this the kind of habit I want to build?
- In my parenting this year, I kept learning that it’s not about being picture-perfect but about having the genuine reality of love and kindness underneath all the mess. I kept learning that it’s not about going through the motions of mothering, but making sure I’m daily establishing a real heart connection with each of my kids. Motherhood this year has meant literally a lot of sweat, blood, and tears—add to that list vomit and stretch-marks and other things I won’t mention—but through it all I can see beauty unfolding.
- Physically this year, I made some headway with exercise and then lost all the headway I made. I’m about the same weight as I was at the beginning of the year, but now I don’t have the second trimester of pregnancy as an excuse, so I’m about to do a Whole 30. I am grateful that I’ve made definite progress coping with my hormone-induced anxiety and have some new ideas to try this year in my commitment to care for myself well.
- Intellectually, I am so glad about the reading I’ve done this year. I’m grateful that reading is my primary way to relax, instead of scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed or watching television, which really isn’t that relaxing anyway.
- In my community this year, I’m thankful for the development of friendships, for Bible studies that I’ve been a part of, for times when I’ve met people over coffee, and for the discipleship I’m doing right now. I definitely want more of that this upcoming year.
- In foster care this year, I have no regrets that we took the opportunity to make a forever difference in the life of a little boy, even though it was only for a couple months and even though it looked a little crazy to be caring for a preemie when I was pregnant myself. I’m glad that we stepped back from foster care to have our own birth baby Brennan. I’m not sure about the future of foster care in our lives, but I know it’s in God’s hands.
So what about you this year? If you’re setting goals, that’s awesome. But I would encourage you, more than looking ahead and saying, “Here is what I must do,” to look back and say, “Here is what God has done.” Tsh Oxenreider’s "20 Questions for a New Year's Eve Reflection" may help. Happy New Year!