Monday, January 11, 2016

on wholeness, and setting goals from a place of freedom rather than a place of shame

I've spent a fair amount of time around my kitchen table in the past few weeks. It's my makeshift office, where I push aside a pile of transformers, Magna Blocks and Peppermint Pattie wrappers, to make room for a big hot pink binder that holds my trusty goal setting worksheets. Each time I've sat down and jotted down ideas, goals, and prayers for 2016, I have not been able to get someone out of my mind: the girl who was sitting around that same kitchen table this time last year.

I can so clearly picture myself, sitting in our tiny dining room with the same hot pink binder open. I was gung-ho to set goals for 2015, so ready for change and desperate to grow. But for all my desire to plan (and my naturally Type-A personality), most of the pages in that binder were left completely blank. I got about a third of the way through planning and praying, and I quit.

At the time, I thought that I just couldn't get my act together. But I should have been paying more attention to what was happening in my heart every time I tried to plan: anxiety would rise, hope for a new year would get clouded by all of the things I'd done wrong in the last one, and the only words that made it onto the page were crappy attempts at making approval-seeking sound Godly.

What I realize now is that instead of trying to set goals, I was actually trying to fix myself.
I was trying to plan away the shame and disappointment that I had felt from the previous year.

My heart was bruised and pretty darn weary, after two straight years of transition after transition. Several moves as a family, several jobs for my husband, a new baby and a c-section, learning to parent a very strong-willed toddler, helping to plant a church, adjusting to life in our small home in the big city...the list goes on. I was exhausted. And sadly, I'd been serving my church, my online community, and my family with the twisted notion that I was my ministry. What I could offer to God and to others had become how I defined myself and where I found my worth. Yuck.

Sitting at my kitchen table at the start of 2015, I was sopping wet with shame.
I felt like a disappointment to everyone around me, to God, to myself. The productivity monster in me seemed to steal every drop of truth that the Lord was trying to speak to me about being completely loved no matter what I do.

From this side of the timeline, it seems obvious to me that trying to set goals in that state of mind was probably not a good idea. And to be clear, goal setting wasn't the problem - it was how I was approaching it.

I wanted boxes I could check and lists written in colorful Sharpie to heal my shame. But they didn't.

Oh, thank goodness for the grace of God.
What I realize now is that last year, I didn't need another line item on my to-do list; I needed to see a counselor. I needed to give myself permission to step back from achieving, and give myself time to heal. I needed the love of God and the right space to work some things out that had been causing so much anxiety, and a pretty constant train of self-shaming thoughts.

And eventually, that's what I did.
The pages in my binder stayed blank, but what God wrote on my heart in 2015 was eternally more important. I went to counseling for the better part of 6 months. I stepped back from serving in several areas and I lowered the (insane) standards I had for myself. Little by little, I started actually believing what God's Word says about being 100%, completely cherished, just because I live and breathe. (See mom, it's God's fault that I got the word "cherished" tattooed on my forearm!)

This year, I can't tell you how different I feel, as I sit at my kitchen table with that hot pink binder laying open in front of me. And the reason that I'm sharing all of this is that I don't think what I've learned is just for me; I think it is for some of you, too.

I've learned that it's more important to be healthy, and to seek healing, than it is to achieve all of my life goals.

I've learned that my heart being whole is a worthy pursuit.
Even if that means I have to set aside, for a little while, all the dreams and plans that go along with accomplishing good things for God and others.

I've learned that what God wants most from me is to believe Him when he says, "I love you."

I'm also learning that setting goals from a place of freedom is so much better than from a place of shame. 

I've found so much more joy, excitement, and peace as I've planned this year, because I know that my worth is not at stake. I can't wait to dig into my dreams, God's vision, and all the steps that it will take along the way -- because I'm not planning for approval anymore.

I don't know where you're at this January, but if your heart is particularly tender, if your head is swimming with shame, if you're making plans on paper in order to try and calm the chaos in your heart -- maybe sit this year out.

Maybe 2016 won't be the year that you get the most done, but maybe it's the year that you get free.

See a counselor. Seek out wholeness. Get friends and family around you, and pray for the courage to walk down the hard, amazing, totally worth it path of healing.

And then when you're ready, plan your heart out, girl! You can come join me at my kitchen table.
But don't mistake your desire to accomplish good things for God's highest calling on your life. He wants to use you for His glory, but He wants you to be healthy, too. He's a good Father who wants you to deeply know and abide in His love, His approval, and His grace in every single step, in every worthy pursuit. (And this is a post for another time, but from all that I've experienced and from watching those who are a few years ahead of me: living and serving out of wholeness, which often means taking time out for rest and healing, will actually let you serve longer, and with more joy.)

I'm praying for you today, if you're reading this and it rings true. I'm praying for God to give you the courage to invite Him into your heart to do some deep, hard, redemptive work in 2016. Even if that means "sitting out" for a few months. He is so incredibly faithful.

Looking back, I didn't miss out on anything in 2015. At the time, not filling up my notebook with clearly outlined goals and action steps felt like I was giving up - but I was actually clearing the road ahead for God to do what He wanted to do in 2015. And it was one of the most stretching, and most redemptive, years of my life. I may have failed at one thing, but it made me more open to God's healing; so I think it's safe to call 2015 a success.

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