Okay, so I’m a few weeks late with this post … but it’s still January so I think it is timely! For the past several years, somewhere in the last week of the year or the first week of the new year, I intentionally carve out a day to reflect and plan. Each year it seems to evolve a little more which has made it more meaningful as the years go by.
I used to only look forward to plan my upcoming year. But when I added reflecting on the past year as well, it was a game changer. As Holley Gerth writes in her book, The Powerful Purpose of Introverts "Reflection leaves us clearer, stronger, and calmer. It also gives us treasures we take back to the rest of our lives. Reflection is invisible but often even more valuable [than productivity].”
If you’re like me when I read a post like this, I want a step by step of what the writer does … so here are the practices I follow to look back and to look forward.
Prayer Journaling -- Normally I spend a portion of my morning quiet time routine in verbal conversation with Jesus. But on this day, I prayer journal. I love prayer journaling! I am always surprised at the thoughts that come into my head when I slow down and just write God a letter. I wish I could say I do this every day, but it does take more time, so I find it to only be an occasional practice for me. When I take the time, I am so glad I did.
What or how do I write? I write the same way as if I’m having a verbal conversation with God or anyone else for that matter. It isn’t perfect, neat, grammatically correct, or follow a specific order. I ramble … thoughts, questions (lots of questions!), observations, concerns, and always gratefulness. Before I begin writing, I like to go back and read as many of my previous letters to God as I have time for—I am always reminded of so many things I had forgotten about it. And I see all the concerns He took care of so well that I had not even remembered were an issue!
I like to start my time this way and come back at the end to write again the things God showed me throughout the day.
Review and Reflect – I begin by reviewing portions of my journals and daily planner from the previous year. In one journal, I have the headings …
Personal Relationship with God
I review my goals from previous years and if I already feel I have clear direction for this year, I’ll go ahead and write those down. Sometimes, I know I need to go through the rest of my time before I know what those goals will be. They are usually just a sentence or two to summarize areas I want to grow in during this upcoming year.
Next, I take a sheet of paper and divide it in two columns and write: Life-Giving and Life-Sapping (or Sucking—whichever you prefer!) I take my planner and go through month by month and record the things I did the previous year that brought joy into my life and those that sucked it out of me. If they were in the sucking column, I do my best to not do those this upcoming year (some of these you are stuck with because they are part of life—but others may have been good for a season but now have become an obligation rather than a joy). Those that are in the life-giving column, I evaluate if they are things I want to do more of this next year or if they are just right.
Interesting note – each year of doing this, the Life-Giving column gets longer
and the Life-Sapping one shortens. I think that’s a good sign!
I take this list of things that are important to me, put it into categories, and write it somewhere in the front of my next year’s planner to serve as a filter or reminder to me as I fill in my schedule. Then as I begin each month, I look over those lists to make sure I’m scheduling in time and activities with those who are most important to me and time for myself before the rest of the month fills with obligations.
“Word” for the Year – as I wrote about in Be Present ~ What Does That Really Mean? each year I select a word or phrase that again becomes a filter or reminder of what I hope to see happen this upcoming year. Most years, some word or phrase has been on my heart or keeps coming up in print or audio for the last few months of the year. And I just know. This year? Not so much. I’m not sure if it’s due to the years ’20-’21 and all this current craziness … or if it’s something else. But I’m not rushing it. I continue to listen for something that resonates with me for the upcoming year and am confident God will show me.
Scripture prayers for my children – In my post Daily Time with Your Best Friend I talked about the book Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children by Jodie Berndt. In this, she talks about a Yearly Prayer she chooses for each of her children. I have adopted this and now have added a grandchild page as well. As I pray for each child and their spouse in their current life season, usually a couple thoughts will come to me. I search for those or similar words in my Bible app and find a verse that I can personalize for that child. Jodie has many scripture prayers already printed by topic in her book and sometimes I use those as well.
I find these verses to be so helpful to pray through each day for my children. The repetition of them engraves them on my heart and many times, I am encouraged to see at the end of the year the areas they have grown this past year.
BIG PRAYERS – I also make a list of BIG PRAYERS for the year. These are things that seem almost impossible, humanly speaking, but I want to put them out there to see what God may have in mind. Many of them continue to be on my list year after year, but some He has graciously answered in ways I could never have predicted. If I did not record these, I know I would not remember and have the blessing of seeing answered prayers.
Prayer Journal Wrap-Up – I like to end my day back in my prayer journal talking with God about what I learned from the day, including any concerns that I still feel am lacking direction.
A new, exciting tool! I just received The Next Right Thing Guided Journal by Emily P. Freeman.
I cannot highly recommend this enough! It basically takes all I’ve listed and breaks it down into monthly and seasonal prompts and includes much more. Believe me, you’ll be hearing more from me on this fabulous journal in the upcoming weeks. As you can imagine, this yearly process can take quite a while. If you don’t have a full day, you could always divide it up over the month of January into time segments that fit into your life. But I encourage you, whether in detail as in my plan or one that is pared down to just one of these areas, to take regular time to look back to look forward … AND to record it. Without a record, much will be lost to our fading memories that could be so beneficial to your future and to those who come after you. Here’s to a new, life-giving year!
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