Goals are great. They keep you focused and on track. But if your goals are all that you live for, how are you ever able to really live?
When I was in high school, a friend of mine got me an interview for a dream job. I was going to be the host. Not only would I make good money, but I would also share in the tips! The best part was that all I had to do was greet people. Excited, I went into the interview and everything went great, that is until the last question. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Quickly I had to make a decision. Should I lie and give the goal-oriented answer I knew he wanted or do I answer honestly, that I did not have the answer? I answered honestly. He wanted to see that I had goal, a desire to work towards something concrete. I did have an idea and direction. I wanted an education, and I wanted to be successful. I just did not know exactly what that entailed, and I did not want to be defined by something I may or may not like!
Fortunately for me, the owner let the question define and categorize who I was. This was not the only time in my life that happened, but it stood out, especially since it was my willingness to speak frankly that allowed me success at the job I ended up getting. I have always thought about that and what that meant in terms of my relationship with God. It was interesting that through various other times of my life when I felt either overwhelmed, over my head, or just confused, I would sit back and think that God had some sort of plan and some sort of direction for me, often which did not align with the goals or hopes that I had or have.
This week at the core of the lectionary is the story of the prodigal son. While there are many aspects to that passage, I think one of the most important is about how we choose to define ourselves. If we define ourselves by things of this world (the earthly inheritance) then it is this world that we are bound to. If we define ourselves to by eternal things (Family and ultimately Christ), we are not bound by the things of this world. Thus, we are given a freedom that is not bound in either a temporal or special way. This life allows us to live more fully, not living up to a singular outcome but willing and able to embrace that which is beyond.
We see this in the relationship with the brothers. Don’t you find it interesting that the younger becomes a playboy, makes mistakes, spends all the money and finds himself broke, yet he is not the bad guy, it is really the brother who stayed? The fascinating subtext was that all the brother who stayed was concerned about was the inheritance, whereas it was the one who squandered everything who was able to see and understand his father’s compassion and thus reap the celebration.
Core to understanding this story, is understanding who and what we are living for. If we go through life with blinders on, only seeking what we want, we are never able to see the fullness of God. But if we live for the fullness, taking the “good, bad, and otherwise” that life has to offer, we can really begin to accept and celebrate all that God has for us. Now I am not saying to go out and go wild! But what I am saying is not to hold so fast to what you want eternally that you are no longer able to see the fullness of God in your life.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen