American culture beckons us toward all things shiny, newer, bigger, and better. And this does not just apply to material items, but to how we view our places in the world. Our identity, goals, relationships—even our spirituality– fall prey to our never-satiated ambition.
For many of us, ambition may begin as a healthy sense of motivation to grow and change. After all, the desire for growth is innate and a developmentally normal part of being human.
Often, however, that healthy dose of ambition can run amok and keep us from finding joy and gratitude in the present space in which we already exist.
The way we make New Year resolutions highlights this so clearly.
We love to envision ourselves as completely new people by this time next year.
We want the “before and after” photo without the “during,” and we secretly desire to the equivalent of “going viral” in whatever specific area of goal-setting we are tackling. We want big growth and we want it to be fast.
This mindset is nothing short of intoxicating, and many of us indulge in it every single January.
We create huge declarations because we believe that this is my year. Visions of our new life once we reach this one huge goal dance in our heads right alongside the sugar plums.
We think, A person is supposed to strive for the best, right?
Except, then burnout sets in by February, and we decide that maybe we are not as ambitious as we thought. This isn’t for me. Maybe next year.
Some professionals conclude that this way of thinking is addictive in itself.
Mary Bell, founder of the Center for Recovering Families in Houston, TX, once shared in an interview that she believed “achievement is the alcohol of our time” . “The best people don’t abuse alcohol. They abuse their lives,” she said .
Mary worked with clients who were largely financially successful and struggling with detaching themselves from the highs and lows of high-dollar business deals. While that profile may not fit most of us, the sentiment remains the same.
Go for broke, we say. Go all in. Be that new person in 6 months flat and everything will be better. It is yours to claim.
Like I said: intoxicating, right? But it does not have to be this way. We do not have to ride the roller coaster of all-ins and hitting-rock-bottoms.
What if, sometimes, goal-setting should really about slowly growing what we already have?
I recently saw something online that asked questions such as this:
How are you stewarding the things that you already possess?
You want a new couch—but are you taking care of the older one you already have?
You want a new house—but are you caring for this one?
So I tried to ask myself these same kinds of questions about the less-tangible aspects of my life:
Lord, send me close friendships.
Are you nurturing the ones I have already set before you for a specific kingdom reason?
Lord, I crave rest.
Your screen time was up 20% last week.
Help my daughter have a better temperament today. She seems fussy for no reason.
You, my daughter, come to me grumpy all the time.
Now, this is not to say God does not continue to give good things to His children even when we do not manage our current blessings well (Matthew 711:). His relationship with us is not directly transactional in nature like that.
I do think that a close and honest look at our stewardship of the things God has given us may have an even more beneficial impact than setting completely new, outrageously ambitious goals: It will help in the sanctification of our own hearts and growth in the areas He has already placed before us.
I am reminded of the parable of the talents in the Bible, which you can read about in the book of Matthew, chapter 25.
A quick summary on this story:
Three men were given a differing number of talents (talents were a monetary denomination of the time) from their employer. The first two men used the talents they were given to grow a profit, and when their employer returned they were praised.
The last man claimed that he felt “afraid” and hid his talent so that he would not lose it or use it wrongly. He was brutally rebuked by this employer upon his return.
In our current discussion, there are a few things about this parable that stand out to me.
First, our talents and blessings are not meant to be hoarded.
Second, God expects us to use what He entrusts us with to build up his kingdom.
Thirdly, ignoring what we have been given for a reason can be foolish
I am completely conjecturing here, but I cannot help but wonder what the third guy was doing while just sitting on his unused talent. Was he seeking other gifts not from the Lord? Was he striving after goals completely unrelated? Or was he just lazy? Regardless, he ignored the good and beneficial gift that was freely, purposefully given to him. What he was doing instead, who knows. But it is a shame that he was distracted from pursuing growth with this beautiful gift.
My prayer for us all is that we have eyes to see the places we can better steward what is placed before us, without distractions or fear. May we come to hear from the Lord,
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much” (Matthew 25:23b)
This year, I beckon you to find a goal that focuses on nurturing an area of your life left a little untended lately.
Goals are not always about re-creating, but can also be about recommitting.
Here are some things to remember as you ponder this re-commitment challenge.
– Consistency, not one-time displays of ambition, is what will create change. Think about your end goal. Let’s say you desire a stronger relationship with your extended family. What are the tiny things in your control that can lead to that? This is where your path to consistency lies. Identify one or two of those tiny things and do them diligently.
- Make yourself a personal policy. For example, on Tuesdays I call my grandma on the way to work. Not, I want to call my grandma more, or sometimes I call on the way to work. Nope, make the policy. Do the task. The benefits will come. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, says that “if you commit to a task rather than thinking about a desire, you get something done” . Think in Mean Girls terms: “On Wednesdays we wear pink.” No questions asked. It’s just what we do.
- Know that you will not be perfect. Your schedule may change and you forget to call Grandma a few times. Change the policy, not the goal. Keep moving forward. Calling on Wednesdays instead of Tuesdays does not mean that you failed.
- Garner support. Who will gently remind you to stay consistent? It should be someone who knows and respects your worldview and how your goals for consistency reflect that worldview. Who is the person who will say, How is your grandma this week? Who is the person who will take a vested interest in your goal to reconnect with family? Lean into these relationships.
- There is no shame in using reminders to help you. It does not mean you don’t love Grandma if you need to use a preset phone alarm every Tuesday morning. It means you care enough about connecting with her that you will use extra means to do so.
Most importantly, ask yourself:
In what small things can you be faithful this year?
To read more from us about Measuring Growth and Goal Setting, read this article from our archive, 10 Tips for Measuring Personal Growth.
1. Clear, J. (n.d.). The magic of committing to a specific goal. James Clear. Retrieved December 3, 2022, from https://jamesclear.com/magic-of-committing%C2%A0
2. Keller, T. (2011). The seduction of success. In Counterfeit gods: The empty promises of money, sex, and power, and the only hope that matters. essay, Riverhead Books.
3. Rubin, H. (1998, September 30). Success and excess – fast company. Fast Company. Retrieved December 4, 2022, from https://www.fastcompany.com/35583/success-and-excess