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A Time to Give Birth and a Time to Die: Goal-Setting with Heaven in Mind

“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to give birth and a time to die…God has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into their hearts” Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

It was a challenging email to write. And even more difficult to click send. I had coveted this promotion for nearly a year, created plans to accomplish it, and here it was being offered to me while on maternity leave. But, as I rocked my newborn son in my arms, I did the thing that I did not think I would. I turned it down.

Abandoning a Checkbox Life

For at least the last six years, my annual goals consisted of three areas of development: health and fitness, career advancement, and spiritual growth. I enjoy setting goals, creating plans to accomplish those goals and executing them. At the start of 2021, I took a slightly different approach. I was tired of leading a checkbox life with arbitrary metrics to hit, such as losing a certain number of pounds and reading a certain number of books. I wanted depth and dimension to my annual ritual. So, I reflected on who I wanted to be rather than what I wanted to be doing and started the goal-setting process with a penetrating why before the what.

Detaching to Attach

As Christians, our ultimate end is the beatific vision, which is eternal unity with Christ. From a Catholic perspective, this is what it means to be a saint in the most basic sense. When questioned by the wealthy official on what that looks like, Jesus responded, “…You know the commandments…” to which the wealthy official replied that he obeyed the commandments from his youth. “When Jesus heard this he said to him, ‘There is still one thing left for you: sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18:18-22).

Detachment from possessions, however, is not enough as Jesus makes clear to Peter in the next section. Peter observes that the disciples had given up all their possessions and followed Jesus and asks Him, “Who can be saved?” Jesus responds, “‘Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive [back] an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come’” (Luke 18:23-30). Therefore, we must be willing to detach from everything: our ideas, our relationships, anything that is not ordered to the One Thing, which is Christ Himself, to attach firmly to Him.

Saintly Exemplars

As members of the Body of Christ, we can look to our saintly brothers and sisters for guidance on how the spirit of detachment, which will be exercised in a unique way by each person, is to be lived out. For detachment with respect to power, for example, we might look to Saint Louis King of France who valued the day of his baptism when he became a child of God more than the day of his coronation when he became ruler of France stating, “It is a greater thing to be a child of God than to be the ruler of a Kingdom” (How To Keep Life in Perspective). For detachment from wealth, we might look to Saint Katherine Drexel, who invested her inheritance in building schools for American Indians and Blacks and founded the religious order the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. She is quoted as saying, “Union with God alone gives us life and abundance of life. We are not sufficient in ourselves” (Model of Charity).For detachment from prestige, we might look to Saint John Henry Newman, who abandoned his academic career as an Anglican priest at Oxford, position as vicar of the University Church, and his friends to become Catholic. In his farewell sermon, he begs the congregation for prayers that he might have the courage to follow the Lord wherever He leads (cf., The Parting of Friends). For detachment with respect to personal plans, we might look to Saints Louis and Zelie Martin, who had their hearts set on joining religious orders but abandoned those plans to follow the path of the married life that God called them to (cf., Love At First Sight).

From Doing to Being

With the new year upon us, many of us are establishing our resolutions for 2023, which studies show nearly 70% of people abandon before the end of January. Rather than focus on accomplishing things, let’s focus on working toward (cf., Philippians 2:12) the One Thing that matters, which is living a holy life ordered to eternal happiness, the beatific vision.

To help us, let us reflect on the reasons motivating our goals. We can ask ourselves: why do I want to accomplish this? How is this goal demonstrating my love of God and neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40)? Is this goal ordered toward glorifying God with my life as St. Paul instructs us, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Corinithans 10:31)? These penetrating questions should not only be asked at the start of the new year, but also throughout the days, weeks, and months as we seek to constantly order our lives toward our ultimate end.

In trying to discern how to respond to the new promotion, I had to reflect on why I wanted it and whether it would serve God best during this stretch of road on my journey in life. I asked, how is God calling me to glorify Him right now? My desires, my plans, and even my efforts to earn the promotion were offered up to God as I embraced the little life He had entrusted to me. This experience has taught me that in giving birth to my son I have also been given a novel opportunity for self-sacrificing love in imitation of another Infant, the One Who was made poor so that we might become rich in eternal things. And in this way the Lord is “making all things new” in my life (Revelations 21:5).

Your sister in Christ,


A previous version of this article was published on Catholic Women in Business on 1-12-22.

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3 months ago

Great article Vanessa! I’m glad you said that we should be reflecting on how to make ourselves better throughout the year and not just at the beginning of the year. As I was reading your article, I was thinking of some possible resolutions to have and then I realized that some of those resolutions I have after confession!
One last comment I wanted to make is from City Slickers, the secret to life is about 1 thing. We stick to that and the rest doesn’t matter.

3 months ago

A very good reminder that we all live that checkbox life. We travel through life completing each tasks without giving much thought to the purpose of our lives. Having a goal of heaven, our eternal resting place, should be our ultimate goal as this year has reminded us so profoundly that our lives are fleeting. We need to love more deeply and share that love with all who we come in contact with. God bless.

3 months ago
Reply to  Angelica

Very good points! Thank you and cheers to the new year!