When Goals Become Idols

goals mock up

“I want to be a teenager, cheerleader, and have braces,” I proudly stated without pause from our kitchen table in Yorktown, Virginia. I was three when my mom first asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  The youngest in my family, I was greatly influenced by my older siblings and was captivated by the idea of getting older, which meant I could hang with the older girls on the block. My plastic high heels would become leather heels, and my given age would move from toddler to teenager… What more could I have wanted? 

Looking back, I laugh, because my three-year-old self was successful in accomplishing her goals. Cheerleader was checked when my third-grade self had glitter cascading across her eyelids, and a silver bow equally the size of her head, on top of her high ponytail. The glitter sparkled as she experienced the effects of velocity and centripetal force while plummeting through the air. Cheerleader was accomplished. Braces took the longest, but at last, my eighth-grade self smiled big for our family Christmas Card with black and pink brace band colors outlining my teeth, making every photo from that year look as if I have spinach stuck in my front left tooth. I could feel my 3-year-old self delighting at the world knowing I was both a teenager, a cheerleader, and had braces all by the age of 14. 

I was really shooting for the stars back then. From my ambitious goals at 3, I have always loved goal setting, dreams, and thinking about all that can be done in this life we are gifted with. Moreover, I have always loved the ability to set a goal, put earnest effort forward, and not always but often see the fruits of my labors. As I grew up, goal setting within each new season or semester in school became a habitual action. 

However, I recently entered a new life stage, a new season, a new adventure… “post-grad.” A time widely talked about in your senior year in college and by adults in seasons ahead of you who frequently respond to you with, “I am so excited for you”. I’ve never been one to heed the streams of commentary from others regarding life transitions. Coming from a home with the motto, “Home is where the Air Force sends you”, change is not unfamiliar. I’ve known the feeling of being unknown, unseen, unimportant in a new city and then the great joy and blessing of making a friend and later building community

Yet, as this new season or chapter has begun I’ve found myself in a season of unexpected mourning and slight disappointment. My habitual action of goal setting and mapping out my self-imposed way to success has simply not worked as I had envisioned.

I find myself thinking and praying with the words “should be” more than ever before. “I should be over this,” or “I should be understanding my job by now,” or “ I should look this way.” The list goes on. The self-imposed goals, all of which are not bad, have suddenly become a roadblock in me experiencing both my humanity and reality. The goals in which I set or the dreams I curated in my mind look starkly different from my current lived reality, leaving me to feel a sense of failure that permeates my ability to trust in the Father. The once rightly ordered goals I set for this season of “post-grad” have slowly become idols. Idols that glisten in the midst of chaos moving my eye away from the work of the Father, away from the good gifts in front of me, and away from the cross before me that will lead to deeper intimacy with Him. 

I sit here today and wonder about when I let these seemingly good goals, hopes, aspirations, and dreams for this season pull me from the ground on which God has prepared for me. I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know I will not be able to accept the reality of my current life if I do not learn to let go of the once goals — and now expectations and idols — in my life. Jesus is inviting me not to give up on the desires of my heart but to be brutally honest with myself. He is asking me to look at my life and ask why there is unrest, discomfort, and even disappointment. Is the sadness from a place of suffering or more from an expectation I had created in my mind that my current reality does not reflect? 

These questions are not easy. They force us into a great place of vulnerability and a place of deep surrender. But my friend, just imagine your season of life today if you accepted your reality. You accepted the fact that the once goals, turned into expectations and idols, whatever they may be, may not be what God is inviting you into today. 

Stop running, stop seeking to change the reality before you. Rather, sit with Jesus and ask him for a discerning heart. 

What are the goals and dreams He is asking you to continue to pursue?

What are the goals and dreams He is curating in your heart?

What idols is He asking you to shed so that you may live a life abundant now (John 10:10)… not when you are married, not when you are 10lbs lighter, not when you nail that next job, not when you are a member of that friend group. 

I mean right now. Remember, you were made for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). God is most accessible to us in the present moment, let go, and surrender all that is pulling you from the living into the season and reality He has placed you in. Let the good Giver provide for you, surprise you, and fight for you in the now. 

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