Goals & God’s Timing

I’m wondering about what kind of thing it is to make goals, resolutions, and intentions, and to keep them. I just read a post by a friend about “discipline,” He doesn’t like to run, and intends to run a marathon in a year, because exercise is good for people. His post was about considering every activity with a kind of cost/benefit analysis: could I be doing something better with my time just now? Usually, yes, I could. I’m not sure what, exactly, but almost certainly there’s something better I could be doing. Discipline is not one of my strengths. Whenever I manage to get something done, when I look back I am somewhat surprised. Apparently one really can stumble, putter, and poke one’s way into all sorts of interesting experiences. One oughtn’t be complacent, of course. One oughtn’t take this for granted.

That’s why I’m wondering — because one ought to act and not be complacent, and yet, at the same time, I am constantly running up against this mysterious complexity that seems to be about God. Whine all I want about how I’m not of a youth minister/teacher temperament — try as I might to get out of completing an education degree — try as I might to only fill out long-shot applications, and rarely even them; here I am teaching, and agreeing to teach, and volunteering to lead crafts at summer camp. Bluster and intellectualize as I may about mission trips, it is a matter of experience that if I have permission from God I’ll more or less know this (and doubt it, plan against it, and continue to bluster and wonder), and if not I’ll know that a bit as well, and will not go though I wish to, or will be disappointed, or sick, or unable to breath. I often end up keeping my goals — several years later, prompted by something altogether different from the goal itself. Ultimately, I must admit not only from theory, but also because of the way things end up working out, that I’m Orthodox because God called me into it, and I’m in Tucson because He permitted it; and before I was in Santa Fe because He sent me there; and I was in Alaska because He assented to it; and I graduated with an education degree because I would need it; and I was in Flagstaff to know the people at Holy Cross; I pray because of God, and write because I keep happening upon things to say — and if I go to Georgia it will undoubtably not be because I thought it a good idea, intended and planned for it — because I didn’t. It will be because God permits it. Nevertheless, one oughtn’t be complacent. One must look about, poke about, and take action.

I don’t yet know how this poking about and following my nose approach to life will work out in the end. Perhaps I’ll have to learn some discipline and a more organized, intentional approach to life at some point. As things currently stand, however, I am in doubt concerning the conventional advice I hear about finding a career, a life style, and deciding upon habits and activities. This doubt has been a theme in my thought and writing this past year — all year long, since at least last Lent. I suppose I spend far too much time and energy on it, while suspecting that I am obliged to work through this stuff, and oughtn’t put it off. How do I conduct a cost/benefit analysis of anything when I know neither the cost nor the benefit of anything? Not only do I hardly know my own desires, but I rarely know which desires I actually desire, and which ones are just passions in disguise. Careen advisors say: know exactly what you’re looking for — but when I try that I find in the end that I don’t get what I was looking for, or that I did, but that was not the most important thing, or that I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I get something quite good, perhaps necessary, nonetheless.

If I write this evening I’ll find: I know not what. Perhaps I’ll be a bit nearer a truth I was looking for? Or, with that time, if I read I’ll find: I know not what. A glimmer of beauty? And if I wash dishes I’ll have a cleaner kitchen. And if I draw I’ll find: I know not what. Perhaps I’ll be a bit better at appreciating the beauty of the world? And if I pray I’ll find… I know not what. Perhaps joy? And if I go for a walk, it will be lovely and healthy. And if I putter about, and poke about on the internet, and look about hither and yon I’ll find — a site that leads to a site that leads me to teach in a foreign country next year, which leads to… I know not what.

So although there are certainly better and worse uses of time, I am always attempting a cost/benefit analysis knowing neither the cost not the benefit. The only fixed principle in sight is “seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” Meanwhile, I seem to be always making decisions in the dark.



9 thoughts on “Goals & God’s Timing

  1. “Not only do I hardly know my own desires, but I rarely know which desires I actually desire, and which ones are just passions in disguise”

    This is probably important to pay attention to.

    And I don’t understand your definition of passions. To me, passions are the feelings brought about by desire, and although they can be misleading, they can point the way to the deepest of desires, so they should be paid attention to, albeit with caution.

    1. Oops, sorry. I was using “passions” the way Christian monastics use it, which is more or less “emotion-based habitual sins.” The way they use it, we are afflicted with passions, give into them, and sin — I suppose one might say that they are temptations based in one’s own thoughts and habits. A disposition toward explosive anger, for instance, would be a passion in this sense, as would depressed moods, a desire toward gluttony, a tendency toward conceit, and so on. The reason for the distinction between passion, temptation, and sin, is, if I understand it correctly, that a temptation is particular, a passion is habitual, and either, if not repulsed, becomes a sin. I might have said that a little wrong, though.

      Thus, in the church hymns we sing of Christ’s “passionless Passion.”

      Nowadays we tend more often to mean by passion something more like a deep enthusiasm, which is an entirely different thing. Usually which meaning is intended shows up grammatically. It is one thing to say that a chef is passionate about good food, or has a passion for making it — it is quite another to say that I am afflicted by a passion for food, or suffer from the passion of gluttony. In the one case, the chef is doing something creative; in the other, I am indulging in something more like an addiction, and it is not creative, or not rightly so, but destructive of proportion and order.

      1. That makes sense. I was thinking of it similarly to you but not quite the same. An example would be to suppose I am an introvert, so I become grumpy at work if I don’t get my alone time. My “passion” is the feeling of becoming grumpy or angry; my true desire is not to quit my job, but it is to have an hour to process external stimuli. I learned this by paying attention and correctly interpreting my “passion”.

        1. Ah, I think I see what you’re saying. LIke what people say about addictions — we’re a lot more likely to act rightly if we know what the actual underlying pain is, rather than covering it up all the time with substances or eating or shopping or whatever?

          Or to take an example I’m more personally familiar with: I sometimes talk like I am really concerned about finding a career that suites me, but a lot of that is because I don’t know how do deal with the fact that all internal indicators are saying that, while I ought to work, that’s quite beside the point — and other sources that I listen to are saying quite the opposite; work must be the point (because that seems to be a article of faith for much of American culture). I must find work that uses my inner passion. So the “passion” in your sense is making a big deal of finding work I’m suited to, but the true desire would be (something else).

          1. Yes, that’s what I meant. But the “passion” in my sense would be the motivation behind it all. Why do I make a big deal about finding work I’m suited to? Because of X. Why does X concern me? Because of Y. Why does Y concern me? And on and on, until I reach the bottom.

          2. So perhaps the best way to word it might be, “passions” (feelings) tell something. Feelings can mislead, but the advantage of feelings is that they “tattle” that the body perceives it wants or wants to keep something, kind of like a crying baby. You don’t always know what you need but feelings tell you you need something, and they can’t lie about that. That something is real and needs to be factored in during the reasoning/prayer/decision process.

            There, that subject is a dead horse now.

  2. To belabor the point:

    in the first example from the post, that of exercise, I might be passionate about running, and be healthy, fit, perhaps compete, perhaps be an athlete. That’s all very well so long as it’s free and proportionate. I might, on the other hand, be enslaved to passions that manifest themselves in a crazy and disproportionate obsession with working out all the time, being skinny, being buff, or whatever — I might become anorexic or bolemic, take steroids, work out all day and neglect my duties, or so on. In that case, it would be a passion not for exercise or athletics, but rather for image or control.

    Anyway, sorry for being unclear: it’s lent so I’m so used to being down on the passions I’ve forgotten that most of the time we don’t use it like that. In the original context I meant something like: say I want to stop teaching and work at some vaguely low responsibility position for the indeterminate future. That might be genuine, or it might just be rationalizing sloth, and the answer would change the outcome of a time management cost/benefit situation. If I really intend to not teach — or, rather, if I’m really going to stop teaching (I don’t often follow my intentions, but rather something more intuitive and insistent), then investing a lot of time figuring out a philosophy of education, working on teacher organizational strategies, writing curriculum, and so on, is a very poor use of that time. If, on the other hand, I were going to continue teaching, then it might be necessary whether I feel good about it or not — in the sense that I couldn’t possibly get out of it for long. In the second case, spending a bunch of time looking into other options, applying for other positions, and so on would simply be a distraction caused by sloth, and therefore a very poor use of time. Sometimes the difference between a neurotic use of time and a necessary one lies in the underlying reason for that action; whether it’s undertaken for reasonable reasons, or simply as distraction from other things that I don’t want to have to deal with (hence all the lenten songs on the theme of “open to me the door of salvation, for I have spent my entire life in procrastination) — thus the distinction between true desire and passionate desire.

    I should probably stop beating this horse now…

  3. I’ve spent a lot of time and life energy thinking about goals and what I am supposed to be doing, and yet I could hardly have predicted where I have ended up. I’m starting to think that all this thinking is just a luxury (and perhaps unnecessary burden) possessed by those of us with fewer responsibilities (I am thinking of a friend who is the father of eight who said to me “I don’t care what I do for a living as long as I make enough money for my family”). Anyway, nose-following may be all we poor souls can do, but sometimes good comes out of it. “It is a dangerous business going out your front door.” (channelling Tolkien).

    1. “I’m starting to think that all this thinking is just a luxury (and perhaps unnecessary burden) possessed by those of us with fewer responsibilities”

      Yes, that seems likely. Or, perhaps not a luxury — but that people have a certain amount of emotional energy to invest in our pursuits, and if our actual responsibilities do not require such an investment, then we spend what’s left over on looking for something else to do. So, if all I do is teach and go to church — and I’m not especially invested in the teaching, but rather doubt its worth — then I still have extra emotional energy to spend on planning out or engaging in somewhat arbitrary pursuits. But if I were doing that, and raising children, then perhaps I wouldn’t have that left over time and energy to try to find an outlet for. But if I were only working and not Christian as well, then I would really have a lot of extra emotional energy, so it might seem especially important that my work be meaningful, and I was working at other personal goals, and so on.

      I’m sure it’s a lot more complicated than that, though.

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