I’m not setting goals and plans for this year. I’m not making New Year’s Resolutions anymore. It’s not that I don’t believe in them, and if they help you, knock yourself out. But one thing chronic illness has taught me is that my goals and plans are often laughably unrealistic.
These days, when I set myself a deadline, I mentally insert my own fine print about how it may need to bend and stretch—sometimes by twelve months or so. I can make all the fancy plans I want, but my illness has the last word. And it can take over at any time.
I mentally insert my own fine print about how a deadline may need to bend and stretch.
Take 2022, for example. I did not have outlandish plans—just to continue working in my day job, continue writing in my spare time, continue to sing and play the keyboard at church, go to the odd writer’s retreat. Then, in April, illness pulled the rug out from under my feet. I got sick, and instead of getting better, I just stayed really sick. For nearly six months.
There goes work. There goes singing and playing keyboard. There goes the writer’s retreat. In fact, there goes everything I had planned for the rest of the year. My world went dark, like the windows had been blacked out and the only light, emanating from a candle in the corner, had been snuffed out.
My world went dark, like the windows had been blacked out.
I am now back at work, but that experience showed me how expendable my all-important goals can be. Chronic illness does not care about my plans or timeframes. It can turn my world upside down without warning, and my world may take a long time—like, six months—to right itself again.
So I no longer think in terms of plans or goals. In the world of chronic illness, goals seem far-fetched and unattainable. I’m not being defeatist, simply speaking from my own lived experience. I find it far more helpful to think in terms of hopes. One of my hopes for 2022 was to continue writing, and praise God, that one hope that was met.
I find it far more helpful to think in terms of hopes.
The sweet surprise of it all was that 2022 brought unexpected writerly blessings into my life I did not dare hope for. I was able to enter writing competitions and collaborate on writing projects I could never have participated in had I been well. It was a bittersweet blessing from God, like he saw my sickness and went, ‘Let’s pull back the curtains of her world and let some light in.’
For 2023, I will not ask about your goals, plans or deadlines. I will not exhort you to carpe your diem or challenge you to make the most of every day. (Sounds exhausting to me.) I will not even encourage you to dream big. For some of us, all we can hope for is survival, and maybe brief moments of fresh sunlight.
Personally, I am hoping for the culmination of my next writing project, a book called Surviving Chronic Illness. I hope to get it finalised this year. Maybe 2024 will be the year my book goes to print! But it’s not a goal, merely a hope. Hope gives me purpose, with a buffer zone for when things go wrong.
I am hoping for God’s goodness to appear, like sunbeams through the storm clouds.
I am also hoping for God’s goodness to appear in 2023, like sunbeams through the storm clouds. I do not know what this year holds: it might bring sorrow, joy or terror. But I know God will be beside me through it all. In his kindness, he may bring respite in the middle of life’s greatest difficulties. I hope he will.
What about you? What are you hoping for in 2023? How might God be beside you in the challenges you may face? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation.