Monday, November 30, 2009


Confession: I still have a hard time distinguishing a goal from an objective. Year after year, in my annual review, I struggle with this. Complicating the issue for me, is the reality that most of my job is just putting one foot in front of the next, getting the next thing done, trying to faithfully resource Sundays. In this work, there is no down-time, and sometimes the special seasons are more burdensome than joyous.

I'm beginning to learn that my feelings about these things may be because I haven't really considered what are my goals. So, I ask myself: how long has it been since - through all the day-to-day, week-to-week, year-to-year - I have had my compass set by a goal? Something or things that might unify all I do, or give me perspective on the nitty-gritty, or even just let me work in a larger more significant (even more satisfying?) framework?

This fall I was confronted with this when asked to describe my "God-given goals." To tell the truth - maybe this is another mid-life confession here - I didn't even know if I had any "God-given goals." I know I have objectives, most of them imposed on me (naturally, organically, or administratively). But goals? And goals that are divinely inspired or mandated? Nope, I couldn't answer that one.

But I thought about it. I prayed about it. I looked about me and wondered "what needs to be done, that I can do, that would advance God's purposes in my vocation, and serve the church?" How would I describe them, how will I get at them, how will I know that progress is being made? And, ultimately, how will I know when I have met my goals?

So, the fall weeks have taken on a different shape for me than I am used to. I marked up my calendar to provide blocks of time each week, to work on these things. My Microsoft Outlook email inbox has my goals in a reminder side-bar. My computer nags me about the time I say I am committed to dealing with these things. Little by little, I am beginning to chip away at a few things that, were I to finish them, would be good for the church and satisfying to me. (Though, I still cannot say categorically they are "God-given.")

Probably the most significant change this has brought is a shape to my calendar. I have always been very good at ignoring the blocks of project time on my calendar - letting the urgent and routine push out the long-range. Slowly, a discipline is taking shape, to honor and use those times. So, each week I have 3 times that are devoted to the pursuit of these goals, to work on them in whatever way I can or the need requires. They are times for study, for work, for engaging others; they allow for different ways of getting at my goals, and are flexible enough that I can move among my goals (and among the various stages of each) as time and progress allow.

Advice not taken: one always reads that time should be set aside for regular "retreats" to focus on projects or goals. "Yeah," I usually huff, "right." Today I am in the first of my planned quarterly retreats for just that purpose. Each Monday afternoon is set aside for the pursuit of my goals, by reading/study/and writing. One Monday afternoon each month I am trying to get away to keep up on professional reading. (Inexcusably, some of the professional journals in my pile are over a year old.) Quarterly, I intend to get out of the office for Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, for evaluation, planning, prayer, and work on one of the goals. That's what I'm about today.

The time away is Monday afternoon/Tuesday morning, because that's how my week will work best. Monday mornings are pretty productive for me; afternoons are already devoted to my goals. Tuesday mornings are already given to calendars and planning. Tuesday afternoons we have staff meeting, so I have to be in by noon. But to give up one Tuesday morning each quarter (4 per year) is a commitment easy to honor, which should pay big dividends.

On my way to the office this morning, I made my weekly Caribou "$1 Monday" stop. It is my way of slipping back into the work week after a busy Sunday. If I can see and chat with others, great. But I take a book with me that I don't have to read, and linger over a cup of dark roast before arriving in the office. Today's book was What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Haruki Murakami). This amazing memoir works for me on so many levels, and my only disappoitment is that it is not going to last until next Monday's stop at Caribou! Anyway, the chapter I read this morning weaves together the disciplines of running and of writing novels (Murakami is an international best-selling fiction author). It struck me, especially so today, as I take my first quarterly goals/planning retreat, that the author's focus is something I deeply need.

To sit for a period of time - an hour, even, though for his writing it is 3-4 hours - and physically commit to staying with the task at hand. Did I used to do this? Have I never? Well, what's behind is behind. One sees the wisdom of disciplining both body and mind to what is important and at hand. About the only thing I stick with for that length of time is a long bike ride. It's time I applied this to the important things in front of me.

And so, today, this has been my exercise on retreat. It isn't easy! But this afternoon I have produced something that speaks to one of my goals, and which ought to provide direction, focus, and energy to my work in the days and weeks ahead. So much to do, and so many ways to redeem the time!

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