THE GOAL IS SOUL
The objectives we set ourselves often confuse rather than empower. The point is to give our life away, with all its targets, so we can receive it back in spades.
Setting targets seems to be hardwired into people. The case of the marathon runner is instructive. The number of runners peaks just before the hour or the half-hour marks for finishing and drops just after. If you doubt small margins matter, ask a batsman who loses his wicket on ninety-nine. We need goals, but has this tipped into an obsession today?
The explosion of data has made goal setting ubiquitous. Tangible measurements can be made of things once beyond our reach. The public sector is full of such analyses as ways of compensating for the lack of the profit motive in determining efficiency. And the data quest is now being personalised as people buy wearable technology which tells them in real time how fit and healthy they are. This latter development in particular is fraught with risk, causing some to become obsessed with new personal bests in whatever category they have dreamed up.
Self-improvement is a good instinct but the deepening craze for goal setting requires wisdom. Too often the targets we set ourselves – physical, professional or relational – are arbitrary. They might seem rational to us, but to others they can appear random, even illogical, and they can overpower or mislay us. The author Oliver Burkeman says:
When you approach life as a series of milestones to be achieved, you exist ‘in a state of near-continuous failure’. Almost all the time, by definition, you’re not at the place you’ve defined as embodying accomplishment or success. And should you get there, you’ll find you’ve lost the very thing that gave you a sense of purpose – so you’ll formulate a new goal and start again.
Goals can be a cruel overlord.
In Philippians 3:14, the Apostle Paul exclaims: I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
There is one overriding ambition, before which all other personal aspirations should be subordinated. We cannot easily measure this goal, nor are we likely to make linear progression towards it. In life we prefer the direct route, and quicker than we made previously. The journey into God can appear haphazard, circuitous, perplexing. Moses married and raised a family in Midian while the Israelites were waiting for a liberator to come and save them from slavery. Paul was going nowhere in prison when he wrote those words about pressing on towards the goal in Christ; his movements cruelly and painfully restricted. Jesus spent many unremarkable years doing woodwork while he waited for the unfolding of his destiny.
It takes a lifetime to reach the goal that St Paul speaks of, and some of this time we can feel like the Israelites wandering in the desert. But all the while, the Holy Spirit is forming us in Christ. Beneath the surface of the strange journey we make, there is a rhythm of death and resurrection more powerful and persuasive than any of the capricious goals we clutter round ourselves. The whole point is to give our life away, with all its targets, so we can receive it back in spades.
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