"Goals," "values," and "plans" are words which have come up in my life quite a bit recently, forcing me to sit down and give them some attention. It didn't take long to see that they are all intertwined: my goals should reflect my values, and my plans should be the steps I take to reach my goals. In order to live each day with more purpose and less wasted time, I knew I needed to define what my values, goals, and plans are.
Then I had to ask myself: what determines value? For me, the answer is plain: GOD. God is the founding father of my "Values Family Tree." Something has value to me if it has value to God. It doesn't have value to me if it doesn't have lasting, eternal value. So, my values are:
- God's love and my relationship with God
- My family, and my family's well-being
- My health and well-being
- My God-given talents/gifts/calling(s)
- My community (in both narrow and broad senses) - i.e., the well-being of others
My goals are the things I intend to do (or keep doing, or do better) to protect my values. My plans are, as I said above, the specific things I can do for each goal. There is a lot of overlap: particularly, there are some plans which can go toward more than one goal. I like that, because my life is not as compartmentalized as a list or chart may make it appear. It also shows how each of my plans ultimately finds its inspiration in God.
I call this my "Values Family Tree" because, in my head, this is how I see it:
I won’t bore you with all the details of my goals and plans, although I suspect that we'd have many in common. But something that jumped out at me as I constructed this chart was that the plan to "find service opportunities in Memphis" fit under EVERY value. It develops my relationship with God because, as I heard a pastor say recently, "If you want to have a face-to-face encounter with Jesus, go and do something for 'the least of these.'" (See Matthew 25:35-40.) It goes with my family's well-being because service develops empathy, charity, and perspective in my children, and doing anything meaningful together as a family strengthens our bonds. It enhances my well-being because I find it so rewarding, enriching, and challenging. It goes with my calling(s)/talents/gifts by providing ways for me to use those for God's glory and to further God's kingdom. It is, obviously, about the well-being of others, and it can be about creation if I apply it thus (clean-up efforts, recycling, community gardening, etc.).
Sometime around 587 B.C., the prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter to the leaders and top craftsmen of Jerusalem, who had recently been carried into exile in Babylon. Other (self-proclaimed) prophets in both countries were declaring that this exile would not last long - a couple of years at most. Jeremiah endeavored to speak the truth that no one wanted to hear: this exile was not going to be short. It would last 70 years, in fact (see Jer. 29:10). He therefore advised the exiles to go ahead and build houses and plant gardens. Spending a 70-year exile in a house is still better than spending it in a tent, right?
But he went even further. He didn’t tell them just to settle in for the long haul; he told them to invest in their new place - this place surely cursed by every Hebrew living at the time.
(The Lord says, via Jeremiah's letter) "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."
- Jeremiah 29:7
That is both logical and crazy all at once. It seems crazy for them to pray for and work toward the well-being of the country that defeated theirs and forced them away from their homes. And yet... like it or not, Babylon was "home" now. If famine struck Babylon, they would go hungry along with their captors. If earthquake, plague, war, or any other disaster occurred, it would not be just those who were born in Babylon who would suffer. Babylon's and the exiles' welfare were bound up together.
I can understand some of what that must have been like. Memphis is both home and land of exile to me. It is not the place I would choose to live, and it is faaaar away from my family. But I am here, and I am now a part of this community. My welfare is bound up in Memphis's.
And what a place in which to have one's welfare bound up! Babylon was booming at the time of Jeremiah's letter, but Memphis is currently the poorest city in the US. THIS is the place in which I will find my welfare?! That's daunting. Frightening, even. And yet... it's also exciting!
That brings me back around to service being an element of each of my values... Being the poorest city in America, there is certainly no lack of service opportunities here. The hard part might be choosing one to start with! I'm very fortunate and grateful to be part of a church that also values community service. I've also been presented some other service possibilities within the last few days that bear consideration and prayer. What makes that more exciting than daunting is the words that come just shortly after the Bible verse above:
"For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope."
- Jeremiah 29:11
God has God's own values, goals, and plans, and we are a part of them. God's plans for us are the steps God takes towards his goals, which reflect God's values, which include wonderful things like love, unity, and peace. In Babylon, in Memphis, in the place where you live, God is at work, and we are God's instruments. Let me encourage you to take the time to consider how your welfare is bound up with that of the place where you live, and to evaluate whether your everyday plans are consistent with your goals and values. And let me also encourage you to be excited!