Pride and Joy: Viewing my Goals as Gifts

I was so proud of my daughter a couple weeks ago when she received Learner of the Month in her first grade class, while hybrid learning, during a pandemic. I was proud of her, but also a little proud of myself for shaping her into this joyful, responsible, and caring child. The teacher emailed us personally and gushed about what a joy she is to have in class. I cried happy tears, and then felt myself wondering “is this okay?” Can I feel pride about this or should I solely be praising God for the gift of my daughter and her unique personality?

Can my actions glorify God, and at the same time, make me feel super good about myself? Can I be excited that I have 200 followers but at the same time have it be to God’s glory? Can I do hard workouts and be proud of the changes in my body, and still have the mindset that my body is a temple? Can I be proud of the consistent work I’ve done with my kids and also be in acknowledgment that God was walking with me all along? 

I know deep in the recesses of my mind and heart that the Lord wants me to feel joy, but I bristle at my pride. There is a fine line between pride at my God-given talents, my God-given body, and the gift of my children, and pride in myself and my abilities to make them the way that I want them. I hop between the two on a daily basis; I feel the tension every time I post my writing, every time my kids do the right thing, and every time I see more definition in my triceps. Can we do both? Is there room for both in the kingdom of God?

“…though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them…” Psalm 62:10b

Leave it to Psalms, or rather God, to speak right to my questions, right to my guilt, when I was deep in a spiral of holding my joy inside. I didn’t want to feel joy in moments that should have been full of joy. In my pursuit of the Spirit (New Year Blog), I was holding earthly pursuits at arms length. What I realized when I read this verse is that there is a distinct difference between feeling joy in a moment God gave to me, and pursuing those moments as the only way to fill my soul. I don’t need to withhold my joy when I feel it bubbling up, but I do need to be sure that what I seek is not simply that joy. 

When we set our hearts on earthly goals, it means that we are dependent on the results of these pursuits. It means that we forsake all else in our lives for the pursuit of an earthly result. When we set our hearts on God, we can still see our goals met, but with less of the pressure, less of the stress, less of the pain if we somehow don’t succeed. When we set our hearts on God the results will glorify him, and store up treasures in heaven: success or not.

As I was processing these thoughts, I had this image come to mind. Imagine with me a beautiful home deep in a forest. Each one of us is outside the forest with the ultimate goal of getting to that home: heaven (Hebrews 13:14). As we are walking, we have two choices before us: search for the bread crumbs (a la Hansel and Gretel) that lead us to the house, or let the Spirit lead and pick up the crumbs as we go. Both ways of getting home will lead us there at some point, but the focus of the journey will be different. 

If our focus is on the breadcrumbs, we can’t ever see the ultimate goal. We have to keep our eyes on the ground searching for each gift as we walk. We will still get the breadcrumbs, we will still reach the goal, but we won’t enjoy the walk. Also, we won’t ever know when the next breadcrumb is coming, and we’ll be obsessed with finding them. Maybe we’ll even hoard the ones we find. We won’t enjoy them because we’re worried about when we’ll get another chance to hold one. If we are living and dying by the gifts along our journey, we’re not setting our hearts in the right place. If all we want is the breadcrumbs, what are we on this journey for?

If we choose to walk with the Spirit, we still get the breadcrumbs. He will guide us to each gift, showing us the best way to go. We can stroll peacefully with our eyes on heaven because the Lord is walking us by the hand through the forest. And he’ll say “hey look, kid, another bread crumb, why don’t you pick that up?” We won’t need to be constantly focusing on the goal of getting to each breadcrumb, we can focus on the Spirit, and that heavenly home ahead. The journey is the same, but our focus is different. 

When we let go of his hand, when we start to keep our eyes on the ground and not trust that he is going to lead us home, there is so much grace. Even when we are intent on finding our own goals, our own gifts, he’s still walking beside us. He is there waiting for us to turn our eyes from the road, and onto him to lead us. We can still accomplish amazing things in this world, but in his time, and with his goals in mind.

“…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…” Hebrews 12:1b-2a

Are you living and dying by your goals? Are you head down, scanning the ground for breadcrumbs or are you fixing your eyes on Jesus? Look up. The Holy Spirit is beside you waiting for you to place your trust in him. No matter what the goal, what the gift, know that it will be there whether you focus on God or not. However, it will be more fulfilling, more satisfying, and better for the kingdom of God if we keep our eyes on our heavenly goal. Look up, hand your journey over to God, and wait for him to show you the way.

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