I’m not sure if it’s because we live in a trailer—there’s no space for extra shoes, never mind a decorated tree—but I seem to have skipped right over preparing for Christmas and moved straight into dreaming for 2024. Well, at least I am trying to dream about what the next year will bring. As much as I want to stare out my window, eyes wide with wonder and a heart excited by limitless possibilities for the new year, that is not my reality. My reality is that when I think about 2024, my emotions tend toward an unpleasant cocktail of regret, dread, and guilt. I secretly worry that I have wasted 2023 by doing God knows what. I hear a voice in my head whispering, “What do you have to show for yourself?” That voice says I need to prove my productivity by producing a degree, a published book, or, at a minimum, a significant increase in my bank balance. I hate that voice and am angry that I am still battling the lie that my worth is somehow tied to achievement. Argh. I know better. Yet here I am, finishing out 2023 by fighting the familiar temptation to “do better” next year. I wonder if you can relate.
If we allow ourselves to fall into the trap of evaluating the year based on our accomplishments, the results won’t always be great. (I know this may be hard to understand for you non-goal-oriented readers out there!) In fact, from an accomplishment perspective, I’d probably grade 2023 (and myself) as a C-. Using a goal-oriented lens to evaluate my year makes me feel guilty about 2023 and less-than-enthusiastic about 2024. As a girl who strives for A’s, not C’s, having no book, no more money in the bank, and only a tiny increase in blog followers means I fell short of my goals for the year. This weighed heavily on me as I considered my next steps. Does this ever happen to you?
Part of the challenge is that Western culture is performance or goal-driven. When meeting new people, we are often asked what we do, compelling us to say something that indicates that we have some sort of value or worth. Perhaps this is why I have been telling people that we—ahem, Jeff — recently drove (with me in the passenger seat🙌) a total of 6,100 miles in just over two months. For those who live life on the road, that’s got to count for something, no? While I understand that this humorous self-reflection is ridiculous on many levels, it does bring home the point that it’s meaningless at best and dangerous at worst to try to bring meaning to our lives through what we have accomplished. Please hear me clearly—I’m not saying that having goals and working to achieve them is wrong; instead, I’m saying the problem is believing that our worth or value is defined by our achievements.
Goals can and should provide direction, but they should never define our lives. When achieving a goal becomes the goal, we risk missing out on life along the way. For example, I started out in 2023 with high hopes of building my business, growing my blog, and writing a book. If I had made achieving those goals the top priority in my life, I would likely have missed out on the most important things I did this year: 1. Supporting my daughter and son-in-law for months after they had our grandson; 2. Supporting my sister, who fought a losing battle with cancer; 3. Improving my marriage, and 4. Helping my mom, who had a knee replacement. None of those things were on my “Goals for 2023” list, but they are some of what made my year truly great.
So, as I look back on 2023, I am done with the voice that says the measure of my year is whether I achieved my goals. I am listening to God’s voice that says the measure of my year (and my life) is how much more I became like Jesus—how much I was able to grow, to heal, and to serve others—and how I responded to what God placed in front of me. While I still think goals are important, I know that life is about more than accomplishments. King Solomon captured this truth thousands of years ago when he wrote, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
As you think about this year coming to an end, are you able to look forward to 2024 with joyful anticipation, or are you feeling disappointed and guilty about not achieving your goals for 2023? Perhaps you don’t even bother to set goals because you see no point in dreaming that anything could be different for you. Well, if that’s you, things can and will be different if you want them to be. Let me share some ideas about how.
To have the proper perspective heading into the new year, it’s important to first look back without your goal lens on. Instead, try seeing your year through the lens of eternity. What happened in this last year that built treasure in heaven? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Ask God to tell you how HE saw your year. Ask him to bring to mind memories, events, or encounters that HE considered highlights. Write those down and ask him what he wants you to know about those things. When I did that, among other things, God reminded me that I got to preach in my former church in London (wow!) and teach at my former church in Jersey City. I also attended the wedding of a hurting couple I ministered to for years. I honestly never thought I’d see that day. It turns out 2023 was a year of seeing dreams come true and accumulating treasure in heaven.
- Reflecting with God on the changes he worked in your life over the past year that he sees as significant. These will likely be less tangible than events or memories. This may include your relationship with him, growth in fruits of the spirit, and victory over patterns of sin in your life. Write down what you see, sense, or hear.
- Ask your significant people (spouse, friends, co-workers, etc.) what they think the most impactful or meaningful achievements in your life this past year are. Give them time to ponder that question, so you receive well-thought-out feedback. Write down what they tell you.
- If you take pictures, look over your photos from the last year. Make a list of the events/memories that jumped out at you. When I did this, I was stunned. I may not have completed my book, but I was blown away by the photos of people, events, and encounters that truly made my year one of my best yet. I couldn’t see it with my goal blinders on.
Next week, we will examine how you might want to consider entering a new year. In the meantime, enjoy this video of my sister Kate during her cancer treatment. After looking back on 2023 with a new lens, this kind of sums up how I feel about my 2023. I hope that’s how you will feel too.