catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 14 :: 2012.07.06 — 2012.07.19


Why I love goals

I am not a content person.

This is not to say I am unhappy, just not content, which is a subtle but important difference. I learned to clarify this difference when my wife kept assuming that when I told her I wished something in my life were different, what I was really saying was that I wasn’t happy. When I wanted to try something, change something or learn something, she thought it must be because I wasn’t happy with the life we had made together.

In fact, the opposite was and is true. Life is bobbing along quite well. My family and I are healthy. I am educated and employed. I have leisure enough to run, read and write. And while my life has struggles, I have a supportive network of friends and family to help me through them. Life is good and I am happy.

But still, I am not content.

There is a restlessness in me that’s like a stone in my pocket, heavy and smooth, its presence both a burden and a comfort. It isn’t wanderlust, that desire to see distant lands and meet interesting people. I’m admittedly not a great traveler. I prefer to spend most of my time alone and I would rather sleep in my own bed at night. No, I believe my restlessness is more a combination of morbidity and curiosity. For reasons I attribute mostly to my disposition, I regularly think about how life is so very brief and then wonder how much living I can cram into my years, however many or few may remain.

For much of my life I felt either ambivalent or guilty about this restlessness. I heard about “the peace that passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) and felt less than adequate because I didn’t feel particularly peace-filled. My image of a good Christian was someone who was so grateful for the gift of salvation that he was neither fazed by life’s surprises nor desired anything more than his daily bread and the assurance of his eternal destiny.

Wanting to try something big, bold or unprecedented did not seem to have a place in the Christian life. In fact, wanting anything at all except a deeper understanding of Christ’s sacrificial  death on the cross seemed out of place in the Christian life. And yet, in my own heart there was a pulsing energy that I knew would never fit with this mental image of the ideal Christian life. So I lived with the tension.

But with age, children and a deepening sense of self, I am coming to embrace my own restlessness, to even see it as a gift from God. In a sermon titled “Message in the Stars,” Fredrick Buechner captured this sentiment,

All of us, for instance, carry around inside ourselves, I believe, a certain emptiness — a sense that something is missing, a restlessness, the deep feeling that somehow all is not right inside our skin. Psychologists sometimes call it anxiety, theologians sometimes call it estrangement, but whatever you call it, I doubt that there are many who do not recognize the experience itself….  Part of the inner world of everyone is this sense of emptiness, unease, incompleteness, and I believe that this in itself is a word from God, that this is the sound that God’s voice makes in a world that has explained him away. In such a world, I suspect that maybe God speaks to us most clearly through his silence, his absence, so that we know him best through our missing him.

This is why I love goals, not because they improve me as a person, or because they make me better than other people, but because they vent my restlessness in a specific direction. It is as if by setting goals, my soul can to burst forth with small, measurable blossoms. I know that things like a fast 5K time, or baking a good loaf of bread, or writing an article may last for only a season, but I will not fault the beauty of a flower for falling to the ground.

Some days I wish I could shake off the restlessness in my heart and rest in the peace of the moment. But until that day comes, I’ll think about the next year of my life, consider what I want to do, plan how to do it and work hard to accomplish each goal I assign. I may never be content, but I am content with that. Hopefully, along the way, I’ll not forget about what makes me happy.

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