Looking Back before You Look Forward– A New Year’s Examen
Usually between Christmas and New Year’s, I immerse myself in the most riveting book. The main character is a bit of a mess– a cross between Anne of Green Gables and Anne Lamott. Some years she’s downright inspiring, and other years you wonder why she’s still playing dress up with her inner demons. But the punctuations of God’s movement in her life make it pretty hard to put down. It also helps that I know the character personally– after all it’s my own journal.
Taking time to review my previous year has become a steadying practice in my life. And this year, I’m in need of steadying. In 2019, our twins will leave the nest. My eldest will move for 6 months to the townships of South Africa. Our team will need to make some hard decisions about where we spend our time. We will walk further with our parents into the complexities of retirement and aging. My husband and I will be alone together for the first time in 20+ years.
We all need to remember that the God of our 2018 will be the same powerful God of our 2019.
I reread my journal every year because the truth is that we are forgetful people. We forget our victories too easily. We forget the whispers of love that kept us going in the dark times. We forget that promises spoken over us that will need to carry forward from year-to-year when they have not been answered. We need to revisit our failures because our perspectives change as we get distance. We need to acknowledge the God whose hands are holding our lives together. We need to make space to remember.
My friend Dora has a ‘remembering’ exercise that she does every New Year’s Day with her family. They go month-by-month remembering the major events and stories of their year, marking them on a timeline stretched out in front of the fire. They celebrate again God’s provision and protection. They cry over their losses. They acknowledge the struggles and victories. Then they turn their faces forward towards the new year, asking boldly for new territory they want to take and steadying their hearts for whatever their coming year will hold.
As you head into this new year, I’d like to offer you some ideas that might help facilitate your reflections. “Remembering” can be facilitated in different ways:
- Reread your journal. If you only journal when you are depressed (i.e. me in my 20’s and 30’s), you may need to pull in some other more hopeful memories.
- Pull out your planner and review the major events.
- Do a year in review with someone else in your inner circle (i.e. teammate, spouse, etc) since they will remember things that you forget.
- Make a timeline of your year. Draw simple pictures or symbols that capture the things that occurred.
- Go back through your photos or videos of the year.
My favorite exercise is to use reflection questions to help facilitate the process. Last year I found a great list from a blog post by Steve Smith at the Potter’s Inn. You can access the entire blog post here including more in depth reflection questions by area of your life (physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.).
Whether you choose to do a formal reflection or do a simple review over a coffee with a loved one— make time to remember the beauty and struggle of your past year.
May your heart be steadied for what lies ahead in the new year as you remember the faithfulness of your God. “The one who calls you by name is trustworthy and will thoroughly complete his work in you.” (1 Thess 5:24)
Blessings to you this new year’s eve.
Doing an Examen Over Your Previous Year
1.What are the most important events that have happened to me or in me this past year?
2. What are the greatest breakthroughs in any category of my life this past year? (physical, emotionally, relationally, vocationally, spiritually, with other people)
3. What has been my greatest struggle in my life this past year?
4. What has been my greatest and deepest loss this past year?
5. What has been the area that has consumed my thinking, attention and focus this past year? (health, relationship, future, etc)
6. Where have I felt most vulnerable in my life? (What area of your life do you feel the most naked, susceptible, and exposed?)
7. Where I have I most experienced the presence of God this past year and why?
8. In the past 12 months, where I have experienced the greatest sense of consolation (peace, happiness, contentment, shalom, serenity, beauty, etc).
9. In the past 12 months, what area of my life has given me the most desolation (pre-occupation, distress, sadness, depression, anxiety, fear, brutality, etc)
10. What ONE word would tend to sum up this past year?
(Questions compiled by Steve Smith.)