I have a morning ritual where as soon as I get up, I step on the scale. I can’t start my day without it. Each and every time, as I await the blinking screen to reveal the appropriate number and correctly assess my weight, several prayers run through my head, as I hope that I’ve miraculously lost those four pounds while I slept. As life would have it, I am never four pounds lighter than when I went to sleep. Disappointment then sets in, as I begin to feel that I’m never going to lose them, ever.
The other day, as I was waiting for the numbers to appear, I finally came to my senses and realized that I will never lose all those pounds overnight, but I might be a small amount (1/4 of a pound, maybe) lighter than I was yesterday. I ended up resetting my expectations towards something more realistic, and when the numbers came up, I found that I wasn’t disappointed, again. My realistic goal lent itself to my achieving a measured but reasonable level of success, which encouraged me to work harder towards larger goals, a practice where if we can replicate it in our lives in other areas, will help us to grow in life and in our faith.
My students are often also guilty of this same crime. I’ve explained to them that there is frequently a direct relationship between time dedicated to writing their papers and the grade they get: the more time you commit, the better your grade. However, they end up waiting until the last minute to write that paper, leaving mere hours left before it’s due. They write as fast as they can until they reach the end of the page and then hit the print button, all with little planning out of the essay. When they get the paper returned with high expectations for a great grade, they are bewildered and angry as to why the grade is so low, as they often don’t connect reasonable effort with reasonable goals. To try and combat this practice, I’ve been establishing short term goals for them before the paper is due, so that they can achieve smaller goals on the way to their great grade. I have them complete their introduction on one evening, plan out their body paragraphs on another, etc., thus forcing them to work on the paper over a few nights so that they have more reasonable, achievable, more realistic goals to complete.
There’s something to be said with tempering a child’s dreams and helping those dreams to be realistic and achievable. Many young people feel that they can do anything if they want it badly enough, but the truth is that wanting is not enough, especially when the object of desire is well beyond their reach. We love to tell the younger generations to dream big, but when we step aside as they develop an unreasonable goal that they’ll never reach, it all leads to them being detrimentally disappointed when it fails and unable to pick themselves up from their defeat. Instead of allowing them to develop big but impractical dreams, we should step in and help them to shape those dreams towards something big and reasonable.
As a model for careful and reasonable planning, take Christ’s ministry as an example. The purpose of His life was to save the world, yet He didn’t try to tackle all of that at once or in a short amount of time. He spent a great deal of His life working on Himself and his skill set, getting His education, and developing His prayer life. Waiting until He was in His 30’s, He then started His ministry through hard work and careful forethought: “One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles” (Luke 6.12-3). For someone who’s going to save the whole world, twelve people isn’t that many with which to work. Yet, He managed to train, teach, and develop these twelve into a strong handful of preachers who managed to spread the message of Christ’s salvation through most of the world over a reasonable period of time. Christ could have taken in thousands and worked with them to spread His message, but He knew not to tackle such a large task all at once with such an enormous group of people. Instead, Christ developed practicable, possible goals over an unhurried amount of time, thus finding success at a reasonable, developed rate, instead of trying to achieve an enormous goal in a very brief amount of time.
Even today, as smokers stare down at a cigarette and long to quit, the decision to tackle it seems overwhelming given the amount of familiarity and addiction they feel. Very few are able to quit cold turkey without sliding right back into old habits. So, smokers develop plans to close out their practice through a series of strategic maneuvers over a specific time period: small, realistic, achievable goals measured out over a reasonable amount of time. And just like them, along with Christ and His disciples, we too must set practical goals for ourselves so that we can find a measured amount of success over a realistic period of time, thus earning encouragement towards greater accomplishments. Should we try to bite off more than we can chew, we end up discouraged, disillusioned, and defeated because we haven’t achieved enough, if any, success. For your next big dream, approach steps that are climbable, not cliffs that are unscalable, by taking a minute to look at your goals and dreams with the eyes of a realist, one who plans carefully and creates smaller goals that lead up to larger ones, thus not crushing your hopes but cultivating them for the next climb. Amen.