Monday, February 28, 2005

Goal-Setting, A Christian Approach, An Unexpected Part 6

Recently, I completed a five-part series on Goal-Setting from a Christian Perspective on this blog. But in the past few days, it's struck me that at least one piece is missing.

Maybe it's hit me with particular force because of my experiences today. I woke with a particular game plan, certain specific goals. But it's been a day of constant interruptions.

In the fifth post, I addressed the theology of interruptions. I spoke of how important faith in the God we know through Jesus Christ in dealing with obstructions that seem to be in between us and our goals.

I didn't mention another essential ingredient however.

This ingredient will help you deal with "interruptions" and keep your sanity.

The New Testament book of James says:
Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’ [James 4:13-15]
Frankly, I imagine James writing those words with a smile on his face, even though he was making a serious point.

I think that he would agree with Father Myke, the martyred New York Fire Department chaplain of September 11, 2001. It's reported that he routinely told people, "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans for tomorrow."

Any time our meticulously-laid plans are interrupted, we can blow up inside or we can roll with the punches...and laugh.

Before I became a pastor twenty years ago, I worked at lots of different full- and part-time jobs. I've worked on factory assembly lines, loading docks, and highway repair crews. I've been a fast food cook, a janitor, a substitute teacher, and a professional fund-raiser. I've been a paint store clerk, a supervisor at the Ohio House of Representatives, and a retail inventory-taker. I worked cash registers at a Sears store and kept a corporation's headquarters flush with office supplies, like Office Max's Rubberband Man. I did some of those jobs well and some of them poorly.

But, there are two things I noticed repeatedly:

(1) The people who accomplish the most in the long run pursue goals, but they do it with a sense of humor. When things don't go exactly as they think they should, they laugh, pick up the pieces, and go on.

These folks have reminded me of something that water did when, as a kid, my buddies and I built curbside dams after rainstorms. We'd gather up sticks, leaves, cardboard, paper, and stones, obstructing the streams of water heading for the nearest sewer traps, next to the curbs. For a short while, we'd stop the water.

But soon, one of two things happened. Either the dam gave way and the stream of water rushed over it or, the water went around our dam, flowing onto the sewer trap.

Those with faith in Jesus Christ can smile when confronted with challenges to the goals they've forged from their relationship with God. They realize that they have little power to stem the flow of outside events. They know a truth I've taught twenty years-worth of Catechism students:

Either God gets His way or God gets His way

(2) The second thing I've noticed is that those who confront obstructions in their paths without faith or humor sometimes achieve their goals. But they don't have very much fun doing it.

There's a reason they don't have much fun. Years ago, I heard a true story told by Bill Hybels. It was about a fabulously successful man who, for all the wealth and security he was able to provide to his wife and family, was nonetheless losing them. His wife gave him an ultimatum: Give up your workaholic ways or the kids and I will be gone.

This hard-driving guy realized that he was addicted to work and success. He loved his wife and children and knew that his 80-plus-hour work weeks weren't what he needed to adequately take care of his family. He worked so much out of a warped psychological need to measure his value with dollar signs and possessions. So, he quit his job and found some land next to a beautiful lake in northern Michigan.

His family was excited by the man's plan to build a home and a little marina on the lake. It was a business that wouldn't demand long hours and be something they could all work at together in the warm months. In the winter, they could relax, living off the money he'd piled up through the years in business.

But it didn't take long for the man's old hard-charging ways to reappear. He was bent on turning the marina into a year-round operation that included things like condos, a hotel, restaurants, and other bells and whistles. The greater his success, the more the man worked, and the greater his alienation from wife and family.

One evening, he came home to discover that his family was gone. His wife filed for a divorce. The man realized that there was nothing he could do to patch things up, so he acquiesced to his wife's desires. He realized that, in his way, he was a chronic adulterer and one unwilling to change his ways. His mistress had been success and achieving his goals. That relationship left no room for anyone else.

Some months later, he was entertaining a few prominent people who had come to stay at the tourist destination he'd created. He was out on a large boat with them when one member of the party pointed to the complex he'd built on the lake shore and commented, "When you look at all that, it must make you proud." The man thought for some time and confessed, "It makes me sick to my stomach." A few weeks later, he died unexpectedly.

You may achieve goals in life without faith or humor. But it won't mean much.

We human beings are communal creatures. We were made for relationship with God and with others. We need those relationships to understand both our potentials and our limitations, to see ourselves aright, to live with balance and equanimity. When we make goals our gods, we walk away from God and everybody else.

The foundational truth of the universe is this: God is God and we're not. As finite people, we can pretend to be God. Sometimes, we may come close to pulling off the ruse, deceiving ourselves above all. But the happiest people are those who can laugh at their own pretensions, honor God as being bigger than themselves and able to help them even in their imperfections, and face each day they're given with a prayer for God's help as they do their very best.

They're also the people who, in the end, have the greatest achievements. Faith, humor, and relationships: They go together and they're all part of really living!

Here are links to the first five parts:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

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