New Year’s Anti-Resolution: Stop Setting Goals

Why I plan to live with less intention

My New Year's resolution this year is unusual, really more of an anti-resolution. My hope is to become less intentional.

Less intentional, you ask? Why on earth would a person want that? I'll explain.

I'm a strategist by nature. I process things rationally, assessing situations, coming up with recommendations, tinkering mentally with life issues and circumstances. I'm also fast-moving leader and productivity-oriented, a fit-it-all-in, get-it-done kind of girl.

Put these two together and you can see that intentionality isn't a problem for me. Coming up with goals and moving toward them is pretty much how God made me.

There are many upsides to these character traits, and I thank God for how he wired me. Lately, though, I've been seeing the downsides that such attributes can bring if left to their own devices.

Last fall I was talking with a friend about her son's preschool teacher. She described the middle-age woman, well-known and respected in their community, as "very intentional but lacking in freedom." On paper, the woman is inspiring–a remarkable gardener and excellent cook; a restorer of furniture and exemplary homemaker; a person who'd cultivated many talents and utilized her resources well. "But she comes across as kind of joyless," my friend said, "and her relationships with her (now adult) children seem strained."

The description gave me pause. At the time I was just beginning to observe a noticeable trend toward joylessness in my own life, especially in relation to mothering my three young children. I was so focused on trying to parent well—attending to character development, employing consistency—that I was losing the joy of daily life with my kids. My mind continually went to assessing scenarios and diagnosing methods for improvement—skills I employ in my work world. Rarely did I just sit back, relax, and enjoy the moments for what they held (or my children in them). Goals were trumping relationship.

Sometimes an intentional spirit can hamper freedom, and even love. This, I believe, is a big part of why Jesus rebuked Martha for her demeanor when visiting her household. She was so focused on what needed to be done that she couldn't relax and be in the moment with him, putting first things first. Her task list and its priority in her mindset were endangering the freedom Jesus had for her. The joy found in engaging with the most important person in her life (as my own) was taking a backseat to lesser things.

Life in the modern world can exacerbate the tendency to prize intentionality and productivity over full, free living in the moment. The priority given to efficiency and multi-tasking are enormous in our culture. The rise of the cell phones alone is enough for many people to throw things out of balance. I can answer e-mails on my phone sitting in a parking lot, but do I know what my five-year-old just said in the backseat as we wait? For a person whose struggles are flightiness or disorganization, the tools an iPhone provides are a blessing; for a person with a bent toward over-productivity, they can be anathema.

January 03, 2012 at 4:01 PM

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