I finally got a late acceptance to present at one of the top conferences in my field this November. Ever since I’ve heard about this conference, attending it has been on my “life goals” list, a milestone in my PhD career. I was euphoric and exuberantly prepared for the trip. Yet, barely a month later, as I sat on my plane ride home, I felt only exhaustion from the week-long event.
Sure, it was a milestone and definitely a wonderful learning opportunity, but gone was the enthusiasm on my flight there. All I could think of now was the catch-up work from my absence and the grant proposal that was due in a week. If I can get this grant, I told myself, that would be amazing, a true milestone.
Every time I thought I’ve learned my lesson, the cycle resumes. Hope, anxiety, stress, relief, satisfaction, new hope, anxiety, and so on. I’m not sure this qualifies as a vicious cycle; it’s just a cycle, a cycle of life that I desperately wish to break.
In a way, all the things we hope for points to an idol we worship in our hearts. As David Foster Wallace said, “[T]here is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”
The problem is, everything else we worship, other than God, will crush under the weight of our expectations. It is precisely in the moment we’ve finally achieved our dream that we realize that the dream was not enough.
It is not that the dreams are bad. It is that we have put our hopes in the wrong things. Instead of fixing our eyes on the unseen, we have fixated on what is seen. We have disordered our loves, and though the things we yearn for may be good things, they will never truly satisfy us.
This December, I want to challenge myself and everyone reading this article to try another way of thinking. I want to reorder my loves, so that “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). Instead of worshipping my idols by listing goals and resolutions, I want to worship God and thank Him for the gifts He has given me.
From Hoping to Receiving
Once upon a December, God gave us the greatest gift of all; He gave His one and only Son so that He can die for us and bring us salvation. Instead of constantly striving for satisfaction through our own power, we should receive the marvelous gifts God has given us.
In those moments, when the lists of January grip my heart, I must remember that I don’t deserve and am not entitled to the success I have or I wish I can have. Instead, as Apostle Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Relax and rejoice. The lists of January have constrained our minds and imagination. We hold onto it like a lifeline, as something we can see, but through our grip on reality, we lose sight of the unseen.
Although the lists seem so real to us, they are but a “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14), a chasing after the wind. And as with mists and winds, the second we think we grasped it, it has slipped from our hands. Therefore, let them go. Instead, we should “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name” (Psalm 100:4).
For me, I want to thank God for the little things in life that we forget to delight in. For the spurts of progress I’ve achieved in my research. For the amazing friendships that I’ve built over the year. For a family who encourages and helps me even when I’m thoroughly aggravating. For the beautiful community of God that He has invited me into. For guiding me to understand His Word and wisdom. For the lessons He has taught me through my failures and mistakes. For the love and faithfulness He has shown me despite my doubts and anxieties.
This December, instead of sullying our year with our never-ending lists, let us enumerate God’s infinite blessings. Let us remember what God has done for us through Jesus Christ and in the everyday trenches of adult life. Through thanksgiving, let us let go of the hopes and fears that drive us to take control of our lives, putting idols instead of God at our center. Let us receive His gifts with a grateful and open heart. For “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).
This December, to the idols of our heart, begone.