Most of us have experience with setting goals we never reach. We know we ought to lose weight, but our dieting caves after a few weeks. We think we should get fit, but our trips to the gym peter out in February. We intend to spend time with God, but the time gets poured into other things. We want a stronger marriage and yet spend more and more time at work.
Why does this happen?
A Formula for Growing Our Souls
Recently I spoke with someone who does global corporate leadership development. She told me that the formula for successfully implementing a vision is:
desire + pleasure - psychological distance
I didn’t get it at first. But as she explained further, I realized that this is what it also takes to grow our souls.
Simply put, willpower is not enough to change us. Oughts and shoulds don’t give us fuel to persevere. Furthermore, they often lead us to despair about ever being able to live up to what we ought to do.
Desire is what motivates us. Pleasure keeps us coming back for more. Watch children: “Do it again,” they plead. “Play it again.” “One more time.” Desire fuels what they do.
What Keeps Us from Moving Toward Our Desires
But eventually we all grow up. Take on responsibilities. Set desires aside as we have to pay the rent. And psychological distance is often what keeps us from naming our desires.
Psychological distance is the territory between us and what we want. For example, if you buy three dozen Girl Scout cookies while you are dieting, you have just created a psychological distance that makes reaching your goal harder. If, however, you fill your fridge with healthy food and give your cookies to a friend, you have shortened the distance between you and your desire.
Psychological distance includes things like
a faraway gym
doing important things in the morning when you aren’t a morning person
a fridge loaded with food that needs to be eaten or thrown out
having to do things perfectly the first time around
Name Your Desires
What are your desires for 2014?
Naming our desires is biblical. Over and over Jesus asks people what they want (see, for example, Matthew 20:21; Matthew 20:32; John 5:6). And then he goes on to say, “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God” (Matthew 5:6 The Message).
So what are you hungry for? How do you want to connect with God and the people in your life? Take some time to listen to where your desire for God is leading you. And then notice where the psychological distance is kicking in. For example:
You want to have a spiritual friend but schedule your life to the margins, leaving you no time to attend to your desire.
You want to spend time with God before work, but you are a night owl.
You want to have some silence and solitude in your life, but you’ve downloaded a whole series of shows you want to watch in your free time.
You judge your efforts in knowing God as so imperfect that you lose your motivation to begin again.
Do you see how we sabotage the very thing we want?
Attend to what stands between you and your desires. Note what will trip you up. Then begin to sort through your desires in the presence of God. Ask for wisdom to see if your desire is doable in this stage and season of life. Can you begin to lean into this desire regularly (though perhaps not daily)? Be creative about where time can be captured with God and others: the car, the shower, tucking kids in bed, commuting, walking the treadmill.
Teresa of Ávila says, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” In other words, decrease the psychological distance between you and your desire for God and prayer. I pray several breath prayers while I work out. I practice spiritual friendship by walking with friends. I keep a “thank you” journal on the nightstand by my bed, which makes the psychological distance to counting the goodness of life very small. I let even a flawed beginning count as steps toward wholeness and God. And I pray for grace to stay the course.
2014 lies before you—a clean slate every single day. You don’t need to have perfect discipline this year. Just lean in to the truth of your limited self and follow the thread of your desire to be with God. 2014 can be a whole new beginning with God every day.
Adele Ahlberg Calhoun (M.A., Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) has worked in Christian ministry for over thirty years and is currently copastor, with her husband, Doug, of Redeemer Community Church in Needham, Massachusetts.