As this year draws to a close and the new year approaches, our thoughts naturally turn to goals and resolutions. What do we hope to accomplish in this upcoming year? How do we want our lives to change? What are we resolved to do differently?
Much as I love writing goals and making lists, and valuable as New Year’s Resolutions can be, there is one vitally important goal that we must remember during this process, or we will set ourselves up to be frustrated and stressed out this upcoming year. That goal is to become a better person. Or, from a Christian perspective, to become more like Jesus.
The beauty of this goal, and the reason it is the most important goal we can have, is that no matter what comes our way, we can still work toward this goal. Other, lesser goals can be thwarted by circumstances.
If my primary goal is success in my career, for example, an unexpected job loss can devastate me. But if, when that job loss comes my way, I remember that my primary goal is character growth, then during my unemployment, I will focus on developing perseverance, trust in God, and compassion for those worse off than myself.
Our other goals can be good ones: to lose weight, to write a book, to quit smoking, or to eat more dinners together as a family. But we are not in control of situations that can come into our lives and derail those goals. We are broken people who live in a broken world filled with other broken people. There are countless possible hardships that could take us by surprise this coming year.
So when those hard times come, when disaster strikes, when you are wounded and stressed and grieving that you can no longer achieve a goal that was so important to you — at those times, remember that no matter what, you can become a better person. No matter what, you can become more like Christ.
The day before I wrote this, I called my dad. It was his 76th birthday, and I wanted to wish him a happy birthday.
My dad is a mathematician and physicist who has had a very successful career as one of the pioneers in the field of GPS navigation. He retired last year, at the age of 75, and would have liked to spend his newfound free time writing and publishing more scholarly papers. But my mom, his wife of 54 years, has Alzheimer’s. She’s transitioning into the later stages of the disease, and Dad retired because she needed more of his care. Dad is the only person she still recognizes, and she usually functions better when he is around.
When I called Dad last night and wished him a happy birthday, he mentioned that one of my sisters wrote a facebook post that “almost made [him] cry.” My sister wrote:
Dad, All my life I’ve known that I have the smartest Dad ever. And the funniest, because what could be funnier than puns? But watching you care for Mom as her Alzheimer’s gets progressively worse — I now know that I also have the kindest and most loving Dad in the world. Happy Birthday, Ron Hatch! I’m so proud to be your daughter!
Dad and I talked about that, and I told him I was going to be writing about how God’s number one goal for our lives is that we become more like Jesus. Dad agreed. He said that it’s been hard for him to find time to do much writing, that he’s lucky if he can get in an hour of writing a day because of the time it takes to care for Mom. Then he said, “But that [caring for Mom] is what’s most important now.”
My dad’s main goal is not to publish more papers, though he’d like to do that and he has valuable contributions to make. To me, to my sister, and to many, many others who see my dad caring for my mom, Dad is a living example of a person who is becoming a better person even in a very difficult situation.
So as we make our resolutions, as we write out our goals for the year to come, as we reflect and plan, let’s remember that the upcoming year is likely to bring unexpected challenges. We might not be able to achieve our much-desired goals. But no matter what happens, we can become a better person, our character can grow, and we can be made more like Jesus Christ.
Question: What do you think? How is it helpful for you to focus on the goal of character growth when faced with hard times? You can leave a comment by clicking here.