Birthday month over here. My 4th COVID birthday and a bit of a milestone. Celebrate with me by finding one of my books if you haven’t already. You can visit my shop or ask your local book retailer to get one. Four decades as taught me a few things (not many), but a few….
There’s a John Mayer live concert recording somewhere where he pauses to talk about his life. You can listen in here:
In my 20s I was skilled at setting plans for the future. Boy, I had the plans. Some might call it “vision casting” or “strategic development”. Pragmatic skills I picked up in business school that apply really well in business, non-profits, heck, even church plants. I’ve translated the planning skill into goal setting for life in general, which if I was more ambitious, would easily slide into the realm of ‘life coach’ helping others find their way (for a fee of course). But I’ve come to realize there is a tension, a balance of sorts, between a great plan and–well–life.
I wrote a couple months ago about my disdain for New Year’s resolutions. I don’t do them not because I lack foresight, but because the rhythm seems off. Instead, I’ve opted for seasonal goals four times a year. This is a stark contrast to when I was younger and goal setting might extend into years, perhaps even decades. (Everybody has a life plan right? No?)
As I’ve grown older it’s pretty clear how little of life is within your control (Especially poignant when you lose your health.) For instance, if I were to ask you, “ten years ago, did you have any idea where you would be today? Did you remotely know you’d be ______ or have ______ or no longer be friends with ______?” When I look back ten years and some of the BIG plans I had loosely charted out, only TWO things from my 30s have come to fruition: I have a home in the neighborhood; I’ve published book(s).
Ten years ago I intentionally committed to becoming a professional writer (choosing writing over music) and that seems to have partially panned out. Apart from that and a house, EVERYTHING else was unexpected to the point I NEVER could have remotely envisioned where I would be and with who. Wild.
So is it pointless to plan? Or is there some kind of in-between where we can balance expectations with reality?
It’s possible that we can set out with a long-term hope or dream and get discouraged when after ten years life doesn’t pan out the way we expect it too. It might illicit a, “Look at how far behind I am in _______ or _______.” But that’s hustle culture we don’t need. Plus, life will NEVER pan out the way we expect the further out we anticipate.
In my youthful exuberance I wanted to “make it for myself”, or at least some iteration of that. And I did, at least for me in my 20s, arrive at the materialist vision I had set. But upon arrival I was left wondering, “is this all there is to life?” I guess as some mature there’s a shift away from the value of material accomplishments (imagine that), and into more tangible and delightful things.
This leaves me wondering, how ought we plan for the future? Should we pay less attention and, as Jesus pointed out when he compared his disciples to sparrows (Matt. 6:26), simply live in the present? Or should we have some sense of a plan, albeit held loosely in the face of constant change? I think it’s a bit of both.
A big part of our humanity and faith, and I think our wholistic health as well, is the capacity to dream dreams. Call it the Dreamspace (from Nap Ministry leader Tricia Hersey), day dreaming for better (as I wrote in Thrive), setting goals for the future, whatever, I think picturing your world better off is important. It gives us hope through adversity, pictures the possibilities when they’re aren’t any, or when they are, and reveals greater or deeper potential where there wasn’t before. I think of some of the prophets in the Bible who excitedly proclaim the possibilities associated with the community/society developing new dreams and vision for future hope.
After that I will pour out my spirit upon everyone;
your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
and your young men will see visions. Joel 2
And towards what type of vision?
[To see] justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5
…those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last. Matt. 20:16
One Exercise on What’s Next
Rather than looking back ten years let’s look forward. Where do you see yourself in ten years? Doing what? With who? Are you at the same job? Accomplishing something? Going deeper? Wider? Making beautiful things? Overwhelmed yet? Give yourself space over the ensuing days, weeks, months, to just day-dream of possibilities.
The next stage of day-dreaming is to NAME the far-away ideas and hopes you can see just along the horizon. They’re out of reach but you can see them take shape. You know the ones, they make you say, “it would be nice to have community around…, if this problem was fixed it would look like this….., I love/can do this and one day hope to put it out in the world….”
Name what you see.
It’s true that ideas further out than a few months honestly get blurry, and although longer term goals/pictures/dreams are important, life gets murky the deeper you go into the future. But it’s also a balance (that’s life). Go ahead and name those short-term goals. I mentioned I do it (usually) every season. Things within reach over a couple of months. “Do taxes; go to mountains three times; finish six books; start the rough draft for new book.”
Here’s the thing. When our vision contains big ideas, like righting systemic injustice, it takes energy and lots of time. I think that’s where my next decade takes me when I dream forward. I have increased patience coupled with a growing lack of urgency to do things fast. It’s counterintuitive to the hustle/grind culture, but like I said (John Mayer can attest), I’ve tried that and it only got me so far.
Life takes time and I don’t have to be the one to make all the change happen. I can loosely hold the plans that remain mostly out of my control regardless of how hard I might try to make a meticulous plan. As I reflect back and forward through the decades, much of what I’ve set out to do when it comes to faithful servanthood, is to merely show up and say “yes” to what is already transpiring in our midst that God’s already working within. And ‘all’ I have to do is casually plod along the daily path slowly figuring what it means to love well and do beautiful things.
With Psalm 139, cheers to another decade.