Goal Setting in the New Year

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Two days ago, I took an afternoon to pray and reflect on 2010. I paged through the journal where I write my goals, spiritual reflections, research tasks, fears, and hopes.  I was at once discouraged by how I continue to struggle with the same challenges (workaholism, trouble relaxing, trouble trusting God), and yet, encouraged by the way in which some of those struggles seemed so very distant and far behind me (passing my qualifying exams, for instance, truly gave me a sense of accomplishment, but it seems so long ago!). There’s also a sense in which looking back allows us to really soak in reality (I recently remarked to a friend how difficult it seems for me to balance spiritual and academic life in China, whereas when I really look back on the last few years of doing my Ph.D. studies full time and working in a church part-time, [although it brought me great joy and fulfillment] that balance was no breeze either!).

But overall, this process filled me with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for God’s faithfulness: even in the midst of uncertainty, God has provided confirmation to me and my husband that we are moving in the direction of God’s own goals for our lives, and I am so ready and willing in 2011 to continue to submit to God so God can fulfill God’s purpose in me!

This morning, I set my goals for Spring 2011: I don’t call them New Year’s Resolutions, because since 2004 or so I have been setting goals about three times a year (Spring, Summer, and Fall, to coincide with the school year, since I am a lifelong student here). I find that setting goals three times a year (or more) allows one to set manageable goals, anticipate the steps (and the challenges), and provide enough time to meet them. I am kind of a perpetual goal-setter; I mean I don’t just have to-do lists for the seasons, I have them for weeks, and for each day!

I once heard that people who don’t achieve their goals often fail to anticipate the problems they will meet along the way, so it’s important to not be afraid to dream through the possibilities but also the pitfalls, and brainstorm some back up plans. My friend recently posted a reflection on goal setting, which you can find here. I find that one really important part of goal setting is grace, or dealing gently with yourself.

I don’t meet all my goals, I never do, but I trust that God sometimes chooses to steer me in a new direction toward new goals that I never could have anticipated me, so I pray hard, I work hard, and I leave the rest to God. I try not to sweat it if a goal keeps cropping up week after week or season after season on my list, but rather continue to commit my goals and my prayers to God and make sure that the desires of my heart are in tune with God’s desires for my life. I love the process of goal setting because it allows me to tap into my passions and my dreams for the future: goal setting should excite us rather than drown us in dread and self-doubt. So if you set some goals this season, do it with joy, grace, and gentleness, a prayer for God’s purpose for you, and a sense of humor!

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