I turn 40 this year. For some reason, that didn’t hit me until now, in late January, rather than on my 39th birthday in early December. On that day, I simply felt grateful. Thankful for my family and friends and the various ways God has blessed me throughout my life. Content with doing a small celebration at home, chowing down the best Jenn Diet-friendly chocolate cake my husband could whip up.
Normally, I don’t like birthdays. They make me feel old and unaccomplished. Even when I was a kid, I’d get a little glum when my “special day” rolled around. Something about staring down a spreading wildfire of candles bothered me. I didn’t welcome the prospect of aging, or the simmering doubts about not making the most of my time up to this point in life. So when I turned 39 and felt fine, that should’ve been a red flag. I should’ve known the birthday blues would be delayed.
Once our family emerged from the lazy, disheveled days of Christmas break, I took a moment to catch my breath, sit down, and launch an undertaking I haven’t attempted in years: I created goals. Specifically, writing goals. It was a project some friends in my writing group were tackling, and I thought, naively, it’d be a good assignment for me to do, too.
Setting goals is a good practice. It prioritizes tasks, focuses your concentration, and provides a framework for implementing disciplinary tactics to help you avoid distraction and reach your desired outcome.
I used to set goals for various activities – school, swimming, work, family, even spiritual life. I hit those early versions of read-the-Bible-in-a-year plans pretty hard. The process of establishing goals fit nicely with my overall zeal for planning. Color-coding, outlining, inserting tabs – all of it gave me an organizational rush.
To be sure, my planning fanaticism needed to be dialed down. But instead of a slow easing off the gas, God chose a different way to reorient this mindset, which at its core, was rooted in sin. He decided to crash the whole dang bus.
Loss of my sister-in-law. Loss of my emotional stability. Loss of my fertility. Loss of my emotional stability again. Loss of my ability to manage (manipulate) my kids. So many facets of life twisted sideways, spinning out of control. My illusion of autonomy shattered. It needed to so I could more clearly see the goodness of God’s will.
Necessary as it was, the process of destroying a habit 30-plus years in the making wore me out. I began to dislike planning. Although I couldn’t avoid scheduling activities altogether, I stopped making notes about what I hoped to do or see happen. I didn’t want to aim for dreams or anything remotely unfeasible. Fear of disappointment numbed my desire to create goals. Why bother? If you can’t reach ’em, don’t set ’em.
This was my modus operandi the past several years. Then the topic of goals came up in my writing group, and I got to thinking about it again. Maybe I should do this. A little organization might help me stay on track and avoid wasting time.
I took the plunge and immediately regretted it. Trying to establish goals for a new year requires you to look back on the past and assess where you’re at now so you can determine how to move forward. And that’s what burst my bubble before it had time to inflate.
Last year, I decided to stop writing at my own blog in favor of freelance writing for other publications, specifically in the evangelical Christian genre. Since that time, I’ve had several articles published at different sites – all God’s grace; not my effort. But that wasn’t what fixed my attention. Instead, I focused on the failures: I didn’t write as much as I’d wanted to. I didn’t grow a platform by any significant standards (a whole subject that feels gross to me). I didn’t start a book proposal. I did get rejected by multiple publications at least 20 times.
Taking inventory of these shortfalls discouraged me and demonstrated why I don’t like assessment-type exercises in the first place. They don’t merely give feedback on performance and provide measurable ways to improve; rather, they showcase my inadequacy.
Thinking about your failures is bad enough. Thinking about your failures in lieu of your age is worse. The comparison trap opens wide to devour you. You view others’ accomplishments as indictments of your own deficiencies. Look at what all these other writers have achieved before they hit 40. You’re a loser verging on old-timer status.
These thoughts are wrong, obviously. I recognized that right away. But even when you call a lie what it is, it can still harass you.
As usual when these meltdowns happen, much angst and tearful conversations with my husband ensued. He was gracious enough to remind me of the truth and not whap me with it upside the head. It took a few days for God to uproot these areas of pride and misplaced identity and show me the better perspective.
Writing is a wonderful creative outlet for me, as well as a beautiful instrument to convey truth about Christ and encourage others. It isn’t my purpose, though. It can be meaningful, but it doesn’t give my life meaning. My worth is in Jesus. He made me; he saved me; he’s working through me to accomplish his will.
Why in the world do I forget this so often, at nearly 40 years old? Turns out the process of growing more like Christ takes a lifetime to progress.
One verse emerged amid my brooding over this. It served as a beacon, guiding how I viewed myself and how I approached the practice of goal-setting:
So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:9
I admit to not wanting this goal most of the time. My heart is too darn selfish. But I can remember it, repeat it, meditate on it, talk about it, plaster it on my laptop, fridge, and bathroom mirror – anywhere and everywhere – to provide constant reminders of my ultimate goal in life.
This is how it should be. This is what I live for. This is why I write, or do whatever my hands find to do. To please my Savior.
I went back to the drawing board and drafted new goals. Only for writing, not for every part of life – let’s not get carried away here. I might explain these goals in detail later. For now, I’m simply itemizing my three overriding priorities:
- Point to Jesus.
- Lift up others.
- Connect to trustworthy resources.
To whomever reads what I write and joins me on this journey of transformation, thank you.