Whether this year feels like it’s lying gently down to rest or screeching off a cliff, 2016 is mere hours from being over. The end of the year lends itself to reflection, but I find that it doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve observed in my life the tendency to forget, even when I really, really want to remember.
Without fail, I’ll stare at the computer screen trying to remember what my family did that’s worth including in a Christmas letter. I don’t dare walk into Target without a list because I will always find something to buy there–a lot of somethings–but I need to make sure I don’t forget to purchase the right somethings. I feel like the proverbial goldfish, with a seconds long memory. Sometimes, I forget because I get distracted. Other times, I forget because I get too busy. There’s always stuff that seems really important that can consume all of my time.
When I reflect on the past year, my thoughts inevitably turn to things I’d hoped would happen. More often than not, I can see unanswered prayers and disappointments. I can even become bitter and resentful over the coulda/shoulda/wouldas. It’s one thing to forget something on my grocery list or to answer an email, but it’s another thing entirely to forget God’s goodness in my life. That is why this practice is so critical, especially if you are looking forward to forgetting the year that was 2016.
The final Flourishing Friday practice helps us to remember. Examen is focused on becoming more aware of God’s presence in our everyday lives. It was designed to be a daily practice, just before bed or first thing in the morning, but works at the end of a season or even the year (it just takes longer). I really like the way Pete Scazzero described the steps in his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, so here they are with my comments in brackets:
- Get in a comfortable position and still yourself. [Still yourself = get your wiggles out first and make sure your phone is on airplane mode. Plan for at least 20 minutes of uninterrupted time.]
- Recall you are in the presence of God, inviting the Holy Spirit to guide you as you review the events of your day [year]. [Say a short prayer, asking for guidance in this time.]
- Walk through the events of your day (or yesterday’s events if it is morning). Imagine watching your day on a fast-forwarded DVD with Jesus.
- Let Jesus stop the DVD at any part of the day so you might reflect on it. [This is the challenging part because you are allowing God to bring to mind the things he wants you to remember. Sometimes they aren’t your favorite memories that you’d want to dwell on. Keep reading for what to do in that case.]
- Notice the times you were aware of God’s presence, when you felt you were moving toward God. How did you feel when you were open and responsive to God’s guidance? Give God thanks for those times. [I usually do this practice with a sheet of paper close by so that I can write down the things that come to mind. You know, so I don’t forget again.]
- Notice the times when you were not aware of God’s presence, when you were moving away from God. What was blocking that awareness? Pray for forgiveness or healing, as appropriate, for those times. [When we see things we don’t like, our natural tendency is to hide and distract ourselves. Don’t. Force yourself to sit in that moment with Jesus and ask for healing or forgiveness and receive it. Dwell on the fact that he removes our sin from us as far as the east is from the west, that there isn’t anything hidden from him and yet he still loves us. Rest in the fact that even when hurts and disappointments overwhelm us, they don’t overwhelm him. We can be honest with him. In fact, we need to be honest with him and face those feelings to truly see the depth of his goodness and presence in our lives. Of all the good things God has done, reconciling us to himself through Jesus is the greatest. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to experience that again as you let him into the dark corners of your heart.]
- End with a prayer for grace to be more aware of God’s presence.
- Close this time with a prayer of thanks for this time with God.
I like to close this practice with a letter to Jesus based on the things I remembered in this time. When I’ve lead groups through this practice, I encourage them to stow that sealed letter somewhere safe that they’ll forget about it and lose it for a time until it turns up again (e.g. a giant purse, a junk drawer, or between pages of a book). If you do better making a digital file, save it and set a reminder for some random day and time over the next several months to read it again or paste your letter in an email to send to yourself, scheduled for a later time. My yearly tradition is to write this prayer, seal it in an envelope, and pack it away with my Christmas decorations until next year. I look forward to reading the previous year’s letter every New Year’s Eve.
Writing down my reflections gives me eyes to see the ways Jesus has shown up, especially when I don’t think anything has happened. I encourage you to try this practice in your own life, so that you might be amazed and overwhelmed by God’s goodness once again.
Happy New Year!