Wistfully watching the “Memories” in my photos app, the corners of my mouth posturing upwards, I reminisced as the pictures changed in time with the music.
A sucker for nostalgia, I’m easily lost in conjured memories of fond traditions, tender moments or exciting adventures.
But it’s not always a distraction; reflection is a way to preserve the past as well as learn from it. As the New Year rings in, I get particularly nostalgic, reflecting upon the past year with the help of my guided journal.
As I ponder, arrows sometimes emerge, pointing to potential paths possibly offering a happier, healthier year to come.
One arrow that keeps showing up points in the direction of expectations and interruptions: long trains, conflict, setbacks, detours and endings. It’s time to look at how I manage expectations.
Some of my biggest disappointments last year had to do with unmet, or unmanaged, expectations. The more I wanted something to happen or not happen, the more disappointment I experienced upon things turning out differently than I hoped.
For example, Christmas is my favorite season, and I’ve developed a plan to amply the joy: finish preparations by Dec 1, so I have 25 days to savor the season.
This fall, my first mistake was letting things get too busy. Life laughed at my perfectly calculated plans and things like illness, unexpected trips and looming work deadlines crept into the crevices of my margin.
Finally ready to enjoy family and festivities on December 23, life once again jeered: a 12-day illness. My vision for Christmas was dimmed in the shadowy pangs of chills, fever and body aches.
I had 2 options—give in to disappointment, or stay present to savor what delights I could.
Plans and trips were canceled, but I didn’t allow my spirits to dampen completely.
Focusing on God’s presence and goodness, I reframed my thinking, and when recovered enough, used quarantine time to get new year’s chores done, so I could connect with family and friends later.
- Last year’s files were stored
- Decorations tucked away
- Reflection to plan for the new year
And during reflection with help from my journal, I pondered these questions.
1. What worked well last year?
2. What didn’t work?
3. What was life-giving?
4. What was life-draining?
Answering the last 2 questions monthly helps identify patterns that either breathe energy into my soul or suck life from it.
From the answers, I discovered 3 soul-nourishing rhythms:
- Connection – with God, others, nature
- Restoration – rest, soul-care
- Reflection – solitude, evaluation
Repeatedly, the top answers for what was life-giving had to do with Jesus, people, restoration, then reflection.
When you peer into the New Year, what emerges?
- Antsy anticipation
- Tearful trepidation
- Energized excitement
- Loss drenched in grief
If you’re struggling against the foreboding feelings of loss seeping to the surface of your cracked soul, you’re not alone, and there’s hope on the other side.
Whatever your emotions, remember, they are data, not directives. Clues, not answers.
Follow the trail of emotion to its source, not in search of answers, but the right questions, then take the questions to Jesus.
And back to the questions, I next answered:
5. What did I learn this past year?
I narrowed it down to the most profound lessons:
Comparison is the oxygen of self-righteousness. Pastor Curtis Jones
- When I detach myself from a desired outcome, I will feel safe enough to engage and can deflect any rejection, experiencing more freedom because I am secure in my belovedness in Christ (aka, expectation management). Jennifer Webster
- Joy is my birthright in Christ. Chuck Land
- When God takes something away, you can be sure He knows how to replace it. Fenelon
- God gives us the cross, then the cross gives us God. Guyon
- Luxury is when all 5 senses are satisfied simultaneously. Jennifer Webster
- Emotions are data, not directives, so listen to them for the purpose of naming them. We own our emotions; they don’t own us. Susan David
- The world needs examples, not opinions. Bob Goff
Maybe this week you can find some time to reflect on the past year, not to get stuck there, but to propel you wisely into the next.
Whatever you find, be gentle with yourself. If you’re holding longing or loss, these words comforted me:
We’ve come to expect the word new to imply something good, and loss, something bad, but these 2 words carry their fair share of both hope and grief. Emily Freeman
Grief is natural when seasons of life change or end. When you find yourself sitting in grief, don’t bury or anesthetize it. Instead, prayerfully search beyond the obvious loss to identify deeper roots (shame, purposelessness, loneliness?).
Allow the emotions to rise to the surface and feel them. Then take the first step into the new year with Jesus, holding your grief in one hand and a new beginning in the other.
Jesus will walk beside you into whatever the new year holds. Trust His gentle and lowly heart (Matt.11:29); it never disappoints, hardens or turns cold.