My older two girls have been a little crazy lately. Their emotions have been all over the map and they bounce from playing beautifully together to screaming and crying and hitting in less than a nanosecond. I’m not sure why it has been so extreme lately, but one thing I’m learning as a parent is that often the thing behind the wildly veering emotions is their goal for the moment.
A child’s main goal, as well as a major goal for the rest of us if we are honest enough to admit it, is to please themselves. They haven’t yet learned the paradoxical truth that when playing with others, if you want to keep the pleasure of the play, the goal must be pleasing the other person. If a child continues to aim toward their goal of pleasing themselves, they instead begin aiming crazily at different targets every few minutes, and end up not hitting any of their goals but hitting their sister instead.
It seems as though staying focused on your main goal in life should be easy. Yet as often as we adults act like children, we quickly discover that it most definitely is not easy. Instead of continually aiming at the goal of pleasing God, we aim instead too often at the pleasing of ourselves and begin careening from thing to thing, from emotion to emotion, and we end up hitting those we love best.
I love how one of our Church Fathers, Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296–298 – 2 May 373), describes this as a charioteer who forgets where he is supposed to be driving his horse and instead simply drives as fast and as hard as he can. He says that such a charioteer would “often drive against those he met, and often down steep places…thinking that thus running he has not missed the goal – for he regards the running only, and does not see that he has passed wide of the goal.”
Athanasius says that this is the source of all evil: the changing of our goal. We turn away from God and drive ourselves toward other things, often not even seeing that we have missed the way.
When I am careening from one activity to another, seeking after success for my children; when I am veering from one emotion to the other, leaving my family as casualties in my wake; when I am uncertain of what I should do next, then I have changed my goal and am not even aware that I have done so.
I am more like my children than I like to admit. I have trouble keeping to my goal, to my purpose in life, but often I can see the signs and often those signs help me to raise up my head, look for how far away from my goal I have strayed, and ask God to carry me back into the race again.
Hopefully I can teach my girls how to do likewise.
I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 3.12-14