We are at the close of the year.
For much of my life, this time was marked by introspection, by examens of conscience where I evaluated myself and my performance throughout the year. How did I grow? What did I accomplish? How did I change from last year? It was also one of the main ways to think about how to create resolutions and ways I wanted to keep growing and changing in the new year.
Recently, I was watching Little Women, the 1994 version (and naturally, a Christmas must-see every year). I was struck by Jo’s comment to Professor Bhaer about her family’s way of life: “With all this transcendence comes much emphasis on perfecting oneself.” That is probably my natural bent and also what I thought for the longest time was the aim of the Christian life — to be continually working to perfect myself.
But at the end of this year, I find myself trying an examen of consciousness rather than one of conscience. An examen of consciousness is an ancient practice, a review of where I saw the Lord at work, of how he showed himself near.
In her book Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton describes the practice this way: “This is a simple discipline that helps us to become more God conscious, heightening our awareness that God is indeed with us when we lie down to sleep, when we wake up and in every moment in between.”
I have been practicing this examen in the evenings, and now at the end of the year, I try it too. I ask the Lord for eyes to see, for faith to perceive his hand. (I need his help even with this.)
I ask – Where did I see you this year? How did you move? How did you protect me? How did you meet me in your word? Where did your spirit prompt me?
This ancient practice of stopping to look back on my day, not primarily to introspect but to look upward, to recognize the presence of God, is helping me to reframe my thoughts around his goodness even on really hard days.
I may not have discerned his hand in the moment, but taking time at the end of the day and the end of the year is a way of re-remembering, of rewiring the memory to see more clearly what I missed earlier. When I was walking under the heaviness of a given burden, he was there giving joy to read Sammy the Seal to my five-year-old; when I was exhausted after nights up with my sick son, he was holding me as I slept; when I felt fear tightly gripping me, his Spirit helped me discern the root of the struggle and eyes to see him fighting for me; and when waves of triggers wanted me to think trauma was my ultimate reality, my Father was doing his rescuing work. He gave me Jesus’ joy in supernatural ways after exceptionally difficult moments.
My bent on perfecting myself keeps me from being able to discern or enjoy my Father’s presence by keeping my focus on what I am doing instead of what he is doing. And ultimately, it keeps me entrenched with a focus on what I, living by my own strength and ability (in other words, what I in the flesh) can do.
But this practice is training me to live by the Spirit, trusting all that Christ is and is able to do in me and through me. Only after our awareness of God’s love and work in our lives is awake are we truly ready to examine our hearts and let the Spirit show us where we need to repent and confess and trust Christ a little more.
I encourage you to try this practice not only at the end of this year but regularly — at the end of your days, weeks, and months. It will enable you to say, “I see your hand, Father, carrying me all of my yesterdays; I look forward to all of my tomorrows and all the grace rushing to meet me in them.”
Looking back on “where his light was” will not only lead you to praise, but surely feed your hope. For his light is everywhere, if only we have eyes to see it.