I read many self-help books. Some are intended to help me to lose weight or to give up bad habits. Others set out to assist me in becoming more decisive, more competent with computers, or more responsible in managing money. I never run out of areas of my life in which I can use some help.
Recently I have been reading books that discuss the difference between goals and wishes. The distinction should be obvious, but for some reason it is not one that I have often considered. Basically, I have learned that a goal is a desirable outcome that I can potentially, by hard work and perseverance, attain. A wish is also a desirable outcome, but one that, solely on my own effort, I am incapable of achieving.
Here is an example that illustrates each. While driving down Highway 31 today I saw a turtle crawling slowly across the road. My first thought when I saw the little animal was, “I don’t want to hit that turtle.” Therefore, I carefully positioned the wheels of my car in order to miss it. Avoiding hitting that turtle was my goal. I took steps to reach the goal and was successful.
At the same time, I sincerely wished the turtle luck in making it to the other side of the road. I hoped it would not get run over but, realizing that I could not protect the turtle from traffic, I merely hoped for its safety.
I have been successful in reaching several goals in my lifetime. I learned to drive a car. I graduated from college. I gave birth to two babies without the use of anesthetic, though it nearly killed me and was probably a foolish demonstration of pride. In each instance, I established a goal, made and executed plans to achieve it, and enjoyed success.
I have also had and still do have many wishes. I wish I would finish a baby quilt I started two years ago. I wish I could play the piano. I wish I could find a supply of crossword puzzles that are neither too easy nor too hard to solve. I also wish that birds would stop flying into the windows of my house. Additionally, it is my desire that my son will stop junking up the inside of his vehicle. While I am wishing, I will add to my list a fervent desire that wars will cease, that researchers will find a definitive cure for cancer, and that everyone will come to know and accept Jesus.
My task, then, when I consider a particular desire, is to ask myself three questions about the situation:
(1) Can this desire be turned into an attainable goal? Finishing the quilt, learning to play the piano, and finding a supply of enjoyable crossword puzzles fall into this category.
(2) If this desire could become an attainable goal for me, am I willing to expend the time, money and effort required to accomplish it? Yes, I am willing to work to finish the quilt and to locate a source of good crossword puzzles. I am not willing to do all that would be required of me to learn to play the piano.
(3) Is this desire one that I will continue to hold, will support in any way I can and possibly pray about but, recognizing my limits, give up trying to control? Since I know of no way to stop birds from flying into my windows, and I cannot dictate the choices other people make regarding the tidiness of their vehicles, these desires fall into the category of desires over which I have no control. I am also pretty much powerless to bring about an end to wars or to cancer or to cause the whole world to have faith in Jesus.
One snag I must avoid in step number three of this process is setting as my goal a desire whose success requires the cooperation of another person. For example, I might choose to make it my goal for my son to keep the inside of his vehicle clean. I would probably begin by encouraging him to do the right thing and reasoning with him so that he would see the “rightness” of my goal. If he failed to respond appropriately, I might move on to issuing orders and shouting ultimatums. He might or might not clean up his truck and keep it that way.
Admittedly, having my son drive a clean truck is not a goal that I would risk my relationship with him in order to achieve. It is not particularly important to me. If, however, he abused drugs or was prone to stealing, my desire to remedy those serious problems would be ratcheted up drastically; the same principle, though, would apply. People with free will can always thwart my efforts to reach a goal that relies upon their cooperation. I must choose my goals wisely.
Even when I follow this seemingly logical process, managing to respond in an appropriate way to my desires is not easy for me. I will not master this struggle in one day, check it off my “to do” list and then move on to master something else. It is like a load that I cannot seem to put down. The problem is that I spend more time wishing for outcomes that I cannot make happen than I do working to accomplish goals that are within my reach. It is always easier to wish than to work.
The following strategies, however, are helpful. First, I assure myself that this is a common struggle. Most people have a problem sorting through goals and wishes and responding appropriately. Second, I resolve to pray about everything that I desire. If the desire is a goal I can achieve and am willing to work to accomplish, I will ask God’s help in doing all that I need to do to succeed. If the desire is for something I cannot achieve on my own, I will ask God to bring about a good result using whomever and whatever means He chooses to use. Third, I will determine to accept the peace that God has for me and wants freely to give to me, regardless of whether or not my desires are fulfilled.
One more fact is worth noting here. Most of the things I truly desire from people, such as love and acceptance, are gifts that must be offered and not actions that I can demand anyway.
Thus ends my summary of what my reading has taught me regarding wishes and goals. The self-help reading material I have chosen to read next will hopefully teach me how to rid my tomato plants of the blossom end rot that afflicts them. You can begin now looking forward to the article I will create from that bit of delightful reading.