“Upon Further Reflection”

This time last week I was wrapping up a mini-retreat at a hotel a little closer to the water.  It’s the second time that I’d done it this year.  The first was earlier in the school year, when I was feeling a good amount of pressure from things.  Then it was nice to decompress and read and go for some walks in what was still a relatively locked-down state.  This time I “retreated” with a more specific goal in mind: reflecting on 2020 with hopes of giving some direction to 2021.

One of the odd realizations from 2020 has been that it feels like no one really knows what they are doing (myself included) or that they DO know what they are doing and don’t care or understand how it affects the world around them (hopefully not included here).  Good, honest, and coherent reflection can be difficult when there isn’t some kind of wisdom in the picture.  So I was grateful to come across a mechanism to do some reflection that could be tied into some of my already-at-play practices and routines. And it was different enough from my regular conversations with others.

It was a good time.  The first chunk, completed on night one, was all about big picture life goals (and those were divided between being/doing and becoming).  The framework I used was rooted in the idea that productivity tends to crowd out anything genuinely personal, which has definitely been the trend in 2020, when everything was turned towards content creation and digital dissemination.  It was good to revisit things that I really hadn’t had time to think about in a while (things that really don’t come up in conversation all that often when the goal has been lowered to simple survival).  It was encouraging to see how I had opportunity to weave in things in 2020 that related to my big picture hopes regardless (case in point: my series on friendship in chapel in the fall).

The second chunk of reflection cam with the first morning.  The prompts in this part of the framework were designed for looking back at the last twelve months to document changes that had been made and what areas of success, frustration, and struggle were evident.  As a reader, I’m already always doing some form of self-assessment, but it was nice to get “in writing” things that should show up in conversations but don’t.

I spread out the third and fourth chunks of reflection throughout the rest of that day (saving the second morning for sleeping in and getting ready to return to daily life).  In these final chunks, I was encouraged to reflect on role models who embody some of the goals I have for the new year.  Then I fleshed out four “being” goals and four “doing” goals and thinking through reasoning and possible roadblocks.

Within two hours of getting back to daily life, I found the peaceful reflection of the retreat challenged.  Within a couple of days, my “goals” seemed so far removed from my day-to-day experience that it felt like a kind of whiplash.  All of this served as a clear reminder that what I tried to do during the retreat was absolutely necessary.  We do not live in a culture geared toward self-reflection.  And when we talk about goals and hopes, the conversation often ends up being about productivity more than anything else.  But as a follower of Jesus, I am reminded of Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus:

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As I look back on 2020, I am grateful for the people who helped me stay engaged with things beyond just “getting the job done” (and they were many and they were necessary).  I am also grateful for habits and practices that carried me when momentum was low and my heart wasn’t always in it.  I was glad to be able to get away the week before New Year’s Day.  True, it led to some whiplash, but it’s also given me some time to reflect on the hopes and plans that I have for being and doing in 2021.   Over the next few days I’ll be sharing some of those 2021 ideas.  I wouldn’t necessarily call them goals.  They are more like commitments than anything else.  I’ve also got a few articles from the last few months that I need to get around to writing about.

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On Sunday I mentioned that the good Sunday funnies were plentiful with New Year reflection.  Here’s the Nancy Sunday strip by Olivia Jaimes.

Nancy Does it First(image from gocomics.com)

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