We tend to think of life as a line – a timeline. At the beginning of a new year, I often sit down to set goals. Often I draw a timeline to plan the sequence of steps. I like those lines, they suggest progress. You pencil in your goals and you see what you must do this month and how to build on that the next month and so on. Eventually, you see a way to lose the weight, complete your studies or pay off the mortgage. The timeline is a helpful and hopeful way to plan.
But astronomically speaking, a year isn’t a line. It is a circle that circle 93 million miles around. Every 365 days we ride the earth around that circle, then we start over and do it again. This is how God constructed the system we live on. You could draw your year as a circle, or your life as a series of circles.
I like the line better. Circles imply ending up in the same place – no progress. They imply learning the same lessons over and again. I don’t draw circles in my planning times. But if you read my journal, you would see circles there. I come back to the same truths. I confess the same lies. I repeat behaviors. I repeat phrases. It seems that I the same ‘new’ insights every few months. My ‘revelations’ tend to be ‘re-revolutions’ of the same truths. Yes, I plan in lines, but I live in circles.
Sometimes when I read back through my circling journey, I feel discouraged. Where is the progression? The top of the ladder? The culmination of a career? The sanctification of my heart?
But there is something else to see in circles. Something much more hopeful than my progress. Something much more steady. Lamentations tells us that every rotation of the earth, that is, every morning, God’s mercy is new. The disappointing thing about lines is that they come to an end. Not so with circles, not so with the steadfast love of God. Looking back at my journal, I see the circles, my wandering in the wilderness. But I also see the new mercies, the new love of God – given again on every new day and in every new year.
So when you plan your goals this year, remember that your life is not dependent upon your progress. God gives you the year, not because you earn it, but because He wants to. We get that backwards. We think that effort and achievement are prerequisites for participation. But they are not. Rather, effort and achievements are gifts, the God-granted privileges of participation. God gives us the year simply because He wants to. And He wants to because His steadfast love never ceases – like a circle.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both with individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean and they have seven children and nine grandchildren.