“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”
— Romans 8:15 MSG
2020 is the first year in my entire adult life that I have not set goals. Not a single one. In any category.
My life has never looked less plausible by “normal” standards. Yet I have never been happier … and I feel absolutely no need to achieve anything my mind previously was attached to.
Have I just given up on life? Or given in at last to the inertia of laziness?
I mentioned in a recent Facebook post all the things I actually achieved/received in 2019. Many of my major adult goals were crossed off in one form or another. Yet I had 0 plan at the beginning of the year for how all that would happen. And the goals I did have… basically ended up having no relationship to the actual, incredible gifts God delivered so lovingly to me over the course of the year.
So if you’re thinking, “Okay, so she’s achieved a lot and she’s just going to kick back and rest on her laurels…” But, Baby, let me tell you:
I could come up with about 100 new goals for myself, bigger than the last.
Except that now, I know I don’t need to.
Late in 2019, I began to realize something very scary: I had always had big ideas about what needed to happen in my life, and when, and how. But none of those ideas were in my best interest or as interesting as what God chose to give me.
It got me thinking. What if I actually don’t have any idea how my life should unfold? What if I don’t know what needs to happen next? What if I were to give up my obsession with goal planning? And what if that’s completely okay?
I don’t know about you, but I’m supremely exhausted from all the goal-based achievement systems that make you the little god of your world, who controls as many variables as possible toward a pre-determined conclusion.
Along with that, downright idolatrous.
God began to whisper to my spirit, “What would happen if you leaned on My love so much, that you let Me set the agenda for each moment? What delightful blessings and surprises could I give you that you have actually been delaying or preventing, because you’ve not made room for Me to surprise you? What if your need to control everything is stifling your very best life from happening?“
Wow. Talk about paradigm shifting. I was so shaken by this quiet insistent tug in my spirit that I went off social media for quite awhile and didn’t even plan a new launch for my business.
I wanted to get clear on what God was saying. And here’s what I discovered…
Where I’m at in my journey with God, I don’t need goals anymore.
God has proved Himself a faithful guide time and time again. And He usually interrupts my plans in the most delightful ways…
So why would I waste time deciding arbitrarily what needs to happen, when I could be nestling up cozily to Him and asking with adventurous expectation–as it says in Romans 8:15 in The Message—“What’s next, Papa?”
I don’t know about you, but I want an ADVENTURE in this new decade. And I want to do it with God. Because if I learned anything in the last decade, it was that setting my own agenda usually led to heartache.
So what makes most goals so seductive, yet ultimately heart-breaking?
Here are a few thoughts:
1) Goals are inherently ego-driven.
Goals achieved and goals unachieved, alike, typically cause suffering. And suffering arises when our ego expectations don’t match reality.
Think about it.
How much time have you spent in deep emotional, mental or even physical suffering over what you’ve “failed” to achieve? Or wondering why an achievement you worked so hard for didn’t bring the satisfaction you hope for? Or worrying about how people will perceive you if you don’t achieve a goal?
Most goals—as good as they sound or as important as the world tells us they are—are inherently driven by pride. They arise from our need to achieve or feel or look important to ourselves or others. They feed our concept of what success looks like and how we think we need to contribute to the world. Even if we think we’ve created those goals “for God,” they typically arise from our need to perform rather than from our love-connection with God.
There can be no ego in the Presence of God. And the Presence of God is also where you can be led step by step into greater achievements, much faster and with less effort, than you could have by planning them yourself.
What if your goal for this year was to simply show up every day, completely present with life as it is happening, and take your next-step queues from life as it unfolds… trusting that God is guiding it all for a loving reason?
Seen this way, releasing the need to set goals is not an act of laziness, carelessness, or insanity.
It is an act of supreme trust.
Think about it. When you set a goal, you are saying, “I know what needs to happen next.” Ego is at the front end of that statement every single time.
But what if you don’t know?
What if you have absolutely no idea what will be the best outcome for the next week, month, or year? And what if you could surrender fully to that uncertainty with joy, rather than fear?
Ego thrives on planning, controlling, and achieving. Meanwhile, your inner spirit is thirsty for genuine surrender to a much greater outcome.
2) Goals are so often rooted in dissatisfaction.
“If I did more. If I was more. If I achieved more. If I had more. If I looked more. If I got more…” On and on the ifs will go. Endlessly.
We think we lack, and therefore we are dissatisfied, which leads us to set goals. We believe the fulfillment of these goals will lead to our satisfaction. Even if our desire is to please God … deep down, we want to be satisfied in having done that.
But what if satisfaction is something we cannot achieve? Or delay for later?
What if satisfaction can only be cultivated in the present moment?
Thinking that a particular outcome will bring satisfaction is the age-old seduction that has kept humankind in misery for thousands of years. Attachment to a particular outcome never feels good… and the results are rarely satisfactory.
You might be thinking, “Lisa Maria, I’m not dissatisfied. I’ve got a CALLING on my life, and it’s imperative that I fulfill it!”
Sure, I get it.
But did you know that you are not the one who will fulfill your calling at all?
The Apostle Paul wrote, “May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!”
— 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 MSG
Sounds like achievement of this variety is a God-job, not a you-job.
So what if, instead of setting goals, you made it a practice to be so close to God that His purposes for your life could not help but flow out of your daily life? What if you cultivated such a closeness to His heart you always knew exactly what step to take next?
3) Goals are typically role-based.
Roles have their place in life and society. But how often do we trade performance of a role for genuine presence with another person, human being to human being?
Looking back over the last ten years, I am staggered by how many of my goals are role-oriented. Become a recognized artist. Be a better wife. Be a better daughter. Be content as a single woman. Become a coach, writer and speaker. Become an expat. Become a better servant at church. Etc.
Yes, the goals got more specific and focused. I even made SMART goals! But the outcome was always the same:
Every time I have achieved my goals in regards to a role, I have found myself inherently dissatisfied.
Because role is something ego needs to prop itself up. Performance is a form of unconscious behavior. We check off our boxes and then secretly expect others to check off the boxes we believe the opposite role in the exchange must play. Then we get angry when they don’t hold up their end of a bargain we never verbalized.
Sounds like the definition of living death to me.
Role-playing is inherently un-alive. And since most of humans I have met just really want to feel deeply, fully alive …. we discover very quickly that as we perform the “role” we are supposed to play, we feel somehow dead inside.
So why would I want set more role-based goals, again?
Why not instead set the intention to be deeply present in every interaction I have with every beautiful soul who enters my life? To be listening deeply to their story, and to the promptings of God within me–so I can know how to bless them individually?
What if I put off all the roles I’ve been trying so hard to play in home, church, and society … and accepted that me showing up, as me, fully present, as I am right now, in any given moment … is all that’s really being asked for?
I don’t need goals for that. Other than, perhaps, the goals to practice both the Presence of God and my presence with Him and others.
Does all this sound so radical?
I understand that it might.
Everything we’ve ever been told about achievement, success, and significance in this world is based on doing things or being someone who does things.
But what if, here on the doorstep of 2020, you have no idea what this new decade is supposed to bring you?
What if that’s completely God-ordained, okay and even exciting?
What if you chose to embrace the uncertainty?
There’s this thing no one tells us about doing less: that it takes far more finesse, quiet alertness & skill to listen for the still small promptings of God and follow them—only as directed—than it does to make a to-do list.
You can expend tons of energy crossing off that list, and wake up wondering why you still feel so empty. Or you can reserve your action until you are told exactly what to do in your inner spirit. Every time I have chosen the later, I end up deeply satisfied with the outcome—and it typically leads to opportunities I could never have foreseen.
Let’s face it, you’re going to blow off your resolutions.
You do every year.
You can either waste your time on a meaningless ritual based in the idea that you know who and how you should be next ….
Or you can surrender yourself to the guidance of a loving God Who will not fail to direct your steps.
2019 was my best year ever for achieving my heart’s desires. And also the year all my plans went out the window on the way to getting there.
I trust that the trust cultivated in 2019 will carry me in 2020 and beyond.
Moment by moment, day by day, our purpose unfolds.
Let’s be right here, right now.
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