LIFE IS NOT ABOUT REACHING A GOAL
Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Psalm 90, Matthew 22:34-46
October 24, 1999 by Tad Mitsui
In April, 1994, many South Africans, for the first time in their life, cast ballots to elect their government. It was a hard won freedom. They were so happy that their dream came true after decades of struggle. I witnessed this historical event with my own eyes as a member of the International Election Observer Team. When the voting day actually came, many people went to the polling stations very early, even the night before. There was a mile long queue everywhere. There was an old man who was so frail that he had to be carried to the poll. He was determined to exercise his right for the first time. He had to wait in the hot Sun for his turn to vote. By the time he reached the door, he died. He was completely exhausted. But people around him said that it probably didn”t really matter to him. His life time dream came true, and was actually lining up to vote. He died a happiest man.
Moses, too, died before his people entered the Promised Land. Some people interpret that as the price he had to pay for his mistakes, and God did not allow him in the land of milk and honey. I don”t accept that interpretation. Moses was happy and contend when he died, just like the old man in South Africa who died before he could vote. Life long dream was about to be realized for both men. Moses gave up his life as the Prince of Egypt to help his own people win their freedom. He wandered about the desert for forty years with people. Despite their never ending grumbling and repeated betrayals, he never gave up. He stayed faithful to people, and helped them to realize their dream, because God was always faithful to him.
Many people think that reaching the goals is very important and ignore the quality of life. Often personal life suffers in the process of reaching the goals. But they think that the goals are worth the sacrifice. They say, "His marriage fell apart, but he was a success." Or "He is not a nice man, but he is a self made billionaire." According to this view, reaching the goal is what life is all about. There is, however, another way of looking at life. I call it a quality oriented view of life. According to this view, the quality of personal life in the process of reaching the goal is as important, if not more, as the goal itself. The relationships with others determine the quality of life. Moses had had good quality of life, as he lived with God. This is why for him dying before entering into the Land of Milk and Honey was not a failure. He saw the promise almost came true, while he and God had wonderful forty years working together. For Moses that was enough. He died happy.
I once lived in a country where people valued the quality of life as much as the goals. In the beginning, this attitude used to drive me crazy. For example, when you go to see someone but he or she is not there, they always say, "He will come back very soon." The expression they use often in such a situation is "Hona joale", literally meaning "right now." Basotho people always say things positively not to discourage you. While you wait, you strike a nice conversation with the host. But the person you want to see doesn”t come. "Right now" becomes one hour, and you ask, "Are you sure he is coming soon?" The host looks a little hurt. "I told you he is coming very soon. Didn”t I? Don”t you trust me?" You may have to wait all morning, even all day. But he is still coming very soon, as far as your host is concerned. In the meanwhile, you are having a grand time enjoying the company of your host. As far as the host is concerned, time is well spent. We have had a good quality of life.
Moses had his moments with Hebrew people. They grumbled at every time they ran into a crisis. They even tried to kill Moses accusing him of leading them astray. They were often unfaithful to God. What kept him going was God”s faithfulness. God never betrayed Moses. Moses” life was complete, in his belief that I was living and working with God.
Our culture sees the value of reaching the goal a little bit too much. We have grown to expect a happy ending of any story, "And they lived happily ever after." It would be nice if it is like that. But we know it isn”t like that. Often a real trouble starts when you think you have reached a happy ending. Marriage with your love does not give you a paradise. It is often a beginning of the real struggle in relationship. You have to work harder for the quality of the relationship after the wedding. Otherwise, marriage can be a beginning of hell. Wealth is the same. How many troubles start with wealth or in the process of earning a fortune? Power, fame, and possessions can be the goals which many people strive for. But if you forget that the quality of life in the process is as important as the goal itself, you will see life only as a succession of failures. A goal is only a door into the next stage of your life. This is why there are so much unhappiness in the midst of wealth. We must know that nobody lives happily ever after without paying attention to the quality of life.
Setting goals is important for sure. They punctuate your life, and give you chance to celebrate your life and to thank God for his love. But reaching the goals are not what life is all about. What counts as you proceed is the quality of your relationship with other people and with God. In my first Pastoral Charge in Vancouver, there was a couple who succeeded in having a first child at last in their mid-forties. But the child had a defective heart. They rearranged their whole life, with mother and the child moving to the city where all the best medical facilities were available, while father stayed in Prince George where he worked. But the child died after three years. I had no word to say in such an utterly tragic situation. But in tears, she said she was grateful that God granted her such a privilege to have one”s own child. You may have to move on to the next stage even without reaching the goal. But the most important at such a moment is the quality of your spiritual life – your life with God.