What do you do on the last day of your job? The last day of your vacation week? The last day of your year?
Often we rush around trying to cram in all the things we should have been doing in the previous days. Or we feel the rush of stress because of what is coming next. Or, if we are really on top of it, we start planning for the next thing, the next season, the next year.
In the middle of all that, we can miss an incredible opportunity, the opportunity to learn from where we have been so we are more ready for what comes next. I want to suggest how to make “that last day” more helpful. Even though these steps work for shorter periods of time, I’ve applied them to the last day of the calendar year, a day where we are more aware that another year has gone by. And a day we begin to think about, or dread, or plan the next year coming.
First, Pause. Create a block of time, even just 15 minutes, where you are able to shut off, hide away, be alone. This is crucial. If we don’t, a huge opportunity to learn and grow will simply pass us by. Do whatever it takes to carve out this time.
Then, Isolate what was good. Get a blank sheet or a fresh screen and mentally scroll through the last year. It might help to chunk it down into “Last Winter” or “Summer” or “May through August” or “Spring Semester.” Jot down whatever comes to your mind and heart. Remember the joys, the experiences, the successes.
Next, Identify what was hard. Be honest. Don’t sugar coat or over-spiritualize it. If it was bad, name it. If it was disappointing, say it. If it’s something you’d rather forget, then write that down! Be willing to identify the hard things, the soured relationships, the work difficulty, the relational strains, the moments that make you cringe. Don’t shy away from reality.
And then, Ask why. Herein lies the power of reflection. When we ask why, we begin to understand what was really going on and what we can do about it.
We need to ask this about our good times, because we rarely evaluate why something good had happened. We often just celebrate the win, but have little understanding of what went into making it a success. We need to learn from the good experiences because we may discover something crucial that will help us as we move into the next year. Maybe we realize upon reflection that it was when we finally spoke the hard yet loving truth that our relationship with our mother started improving, or that our experience of joy was directly related to our trust in God’s goodness. Asking why something good and joyful occurred is so important.
And, of course, we need to ask this about our hard times. While we often forget to ask why something good happened, we have a different problem when it comes to evaluating the hard experiences: being honest. When we look at the hard experiences, we need to be willing to name what really happened and why it happened. Try not to shift blame or take on more than your share of the blame or ignore the deeper emotional or spiritual realities that may be underlying what happened. As you ask why, be willing to learn from what happened, letting God reveal to you what you need to know about your own heart, your own patterns, your own biases, your own sin. It’s only as we come to understand these things that we will be able to grow and change. And one more thing, in the moment of honesty, don’t let guilt or shame overwhelm you. Let the grace of God fill you with hope and peace, because knowing where you need to grow is an amazing gift, and God is going to walk with you into this next year, every step of the way.
Finally, Create three actionable steps you will take in response to what you’ve learned. You’ve come to understand some important realities. Revelation like this is more precious than gold itself, and it’s the soil from which true spiritual transformation grows. Creating three actionable steps isn’t pure goal setting, and it doesn’t replace a more robust time of planning for the year ahead. But if we don’t specifically act upon what we’ve learned, then many of our goals, resolutions and hopes could be short-circuited by recurring habits, patterns or problem areas we have not been willing or able to isolate, identify and understand.
May God grant you insight as you look back and courage as you look forward.
Happy New Year!