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Reflecting on the Year (With Prompts to Journal Your Year in Review)



Journaling has been a tradition among the women in my family for three generations.


My grandma kept a journal, my mom has, my auntie and cousin both do as well. One Christmas we all happened to get a new 5 year journal.


There’s a box tucked in the back of my closet. Inside the box are crinkled pages from spiral notebooks, a pile of vibrant hardcover journals, and a jumble of loose papers that contain words of my life since my teenage years.


I haven’t read them. Honestly I’m a little afraid to. But, for the last couple years I placed a sticky note to bookmark the pages where I wrote out a yearly review so I can look back before I press ahead.


The yearly reflection is a sweet time for me. 


The Lord has held us through many different seasons over the years, they’ve come and gone, in like a lion and out like a lamb at times— phases of grief and suffering, transitions, celebrations and joy. The mountainous horizon of the journey, jagged as it is, clearly marked with the steadfast faithfulness of God’s goodness. This truth fills me with joy and hope for the next year.


If you’ve never thought about journaling a year in review, I’d invite you to consider it. Here’s why.


Benefits of Journaling Your Year in Review

To remember the works of God

“Then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deut 6:12).


Our memory fails us. 


These days it’s often due to busyness and distraction. With young families we’re planning the days and weeks ahead, managing the calendar like a commander, then often using up spare moments scrolling.


Time to deeply reflect isn’t readily available unless we make it. 


After their rescue out of Egypt, it didn’t take Israel long to forget the miraculous, inconceivable work of God to free them from slavery and set them apart as his own people. In the wilderness they complained about Moses’ leadership, the bitter water, the meat God provided, the manna he sent. Ultimately, their forgetfulness led them to idolatry as Moses went up the mountain and they worshiped a golden calf.


Forgetting is failing to remember.


When we sit down to remember God’s work in our lives, it’s like opening our gifts at Christmas. Our experiences over the year we’ve seen as a wrapped box with a bow on top (or maybe it’s been a crumpled brown wrapper with your name scribbled on it), we don’t know what’s inside. Unsure of the significance of the moments we’ve been through, we feel hesitant to peel back the layers. 


By journaling a year in review, we find “a tool for self-reflection that allows us to cooperate with the Spirit to make sense of the deepening work he is doing in our soul.” [1] We recollect our comings and goings to discover where God has been at work in and around us, to keep our eyes fixed on him.


To grow in faithful obedience

A plan helps growth flourish. It's like planting seeds in springtime then leaving for summer on vacation. Without being home to water and weed, the garden is overgrown, strangling the plant. 


As we look back, we learn both from habits which helped, and also the obstacles that got in the way. We observe our responses to situations and the outcomes; things we could've done differently, or where we knew exactly what to do. Our learning is nudged along as we consider the past.


But we also need to remember, “our growth is not independent personal improvement. It is growth in Christ.”[2]  Paul tells Timothy, “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (1 Tim 6:20) by rooting ourselves in the gospel, not the sandy soil of the world’s “truth” in order to know and enjoy God.


To long for what’s yet to come

At some point in the last 12 months, you may have experienced devastation and turmoil. Going back to those moments isn't easy. Where grief and hurt lay along the path of your journey the Lord Jesus reminds our weary selves to lift up those burdens to his broad shoulders for him to carry so we may find rest.


The pain and sorrows acutely remind us things are not as they should be. Even when we’ve enjoyed a spectacular year, the best is still yet to come.


“As Randy Alcorn puts it, the Bible clearly teaches that we were made “for a person and a place.” And that person, experienced in the presence of that place, will meet every single need we could ever have. Complete satisfaction is possible. All of our longings tell us it must be. But only in this divine gift of a person and a place will we ever find it.” [3]


While we celebrate, grieve and learn from the year past, we’re propelled ahead with renewed focus on Christ as we long for his kingdom come.



Prompts to write your Year in Review

Here’s how I go through my year, I’ll share it as an invitation to you.


“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands” (Ps. 143:5)

Grab a notebook and a pen, a loose paper, or laptop, a cup of coffee and a quiet space. Have your yearly calendar handy.


Begin in prayer, asking the Lord to guide you as you remember the events of the year.


Start by thinking about your last New Year celebration, what were you hoping for, where had you been, where were you as you rang in the year?


Then look at your month of January, note what was happening, any celebrations like birthdays or anniversaries, or travels. Do this for each month of the year.


Now that your memories are fresh, ask yourself these questions:

  • What was the hardest? 

  • What surprised you?

  • Where did you fail?

  • What are yout thankful for?

  • What has been disappointing?

  • Where have you been stretched?

  • Where have you grown?

  • What have you learned?

  • How have you persevered?

  • Who has blessed or encouraged you?

  • Where have you seen blessing from waiting? From struggle?

  • Who or what have you invested in?

  • How have you seen God at work?

  • What have you learned about God?

  • What, or whom, do you need to entrust to the Lord?

As you look ahead, consider:

  • What do you need to let go of?

  • What do you want to take with you into the year ahead?

  • What are you longing for?

  • What priorities or rhythms do you want to establish for the new year?

My prayer is for encouragement as you’ve reflected on the Lord’s work in your life, that you know and enjoy him and continue bearing fruit for his kingdom.


 

[1] The Gospel Coalition, How to Keep a Spiritual Journal.

[2] Dane Ortlund, Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners

[3] Stephen Morefield, Always Longing: Discovering the Joy of Heaven, ch.1

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