Behold the Beautiful Tension at the End of a Year

Hello friend,

The end of a year can hold a beautiful tension, if we let it. Coming off of Advent and the annual reorienting to and celebration of Jesus’s birth, we enter muddied water. I call it muddied because of the minor clash of calendars: New Year (based on the Gregorian calendar) and Christmas Time (until January 6th and Epiphany based on the liturgical calendar).

Five years ago, I created a year-end reflecting packet for cross-cultural workers. (You can see it here.)

It has become a holy exercise for me (and others, but I am speaking for myself). I wish I had started doing it years ago because of the depth and space it creates in my soul. It turns out this annual practice mirrors that tension that we see reflected in the Bible: reflecting and preparing. 

How often is the phrase “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” used? Or the call to remember? It’s as if God knows that left on our own, many of us would never look back. Likewise, how often does God reference the future generations, pointing to what’s coming next? God models how we can lean into the tension that reflecting and preparing offers us.

Though we live in this tension of the past and the future all the time, this is the time of year we are acutely aware of it. This holy invitation of reflecting has given me three gifts:

1. The ability to see themes and patterns in a year. Often in a day, week, or month, I might miss the bigger story. But when I step back, I can see things I forgot or hadn’t put together. Often, I realize that a little course correction in my thinking needs to occur. Perhaps the year wasn’t as bad, boring, or hard as I’d been thinking.. I notice God’s hand in meaningful ways.

2. The relationship between naming and honoring. Making a list or answering a few questions doesn’t seem that it would do that much. But for me, as I reflect on the year and answer questions about it, I picture myself like Adam and God in naming the animals. God and I name the good, bad, and ugly of the year. When someone says, “Hey, you” versus “Hey, Amy,” and smiles, it’s a small thing, that conveys honor. By naming my year, I’m honoring what happened (or didn’t happen) and the way God has used it to form me.

3. Processing, annoyingly, is important. I’m the kind of person that would rather not process because I don’t like to be slowed down from my doing. I love doing 😊. But here’s the paradox, processing is like preparing a field. If I just run around tossing seeds, the chances of a crop coming to life is slim. However, if I take time to pull out the dead plants, till up the earth a bit, and plant the seeds, guess what? More are likely to grow. So, for those of you who find reflecting and processing “not your thing” – tie them to what is your thing. Since I love doing, processing helps me actually do more of what’s important to me.

Herb Lamp said, “Without reflection, we lose the ability to see God at work in our lives. Without reflection, we lose perspective in regard to our lives and ministries. Without reflection, we lose the awareness that God is with us and not against us. Without reflection, we lose the sense of joyful delight that each day should bring.” 

(Journey with Me: Spiritual Formation for Global Workers, 57)

I titled this Behold the Beautiful Tension at the End of a Year because whether the Liturgical or Gregorian calendar, the beautiful tension is an invitation to reflect and prepare. If you’re interested in the Global Trellis packet, you can find it here. You don’t have to use year end packet prepared by Global Trellis, but I do hope you have a way to reflect this time of year.

With blessing,

Amy

Fire-building and the end of the year

Have you ever watched someone build a fire who doesn’t know what they are doing? They have all of the elements—tinder, kindling, and fuel—but they often make one key mistake.

They do not leave enough space for oxygen.

And without oxygen, no amount of trying will lead to an actual fire. Instead, even with the best of intentions and effort you have … a pile of wood.

I heard Juliet Funt speak this year and then read her book A Minute to Think. What she shares is probably something you’ve sensed deep in your soul and didn’t need her to tell you: busyness is epidemic.

And we cross-cultural workers, sadly, are no exception. Funt quotes Juliet B. Schor, who calls the way we choose to operate “performance busyness. There is no ‘they’ doing it to us anymore. From corporate executives to sheep farmer to retiree, our driving pace and pressure has become fully internalized.”

That resonated with me. For many of us, we might not physically go to a work place and report to a boss in person. But it doesn’t matter because, it’s true, I have internalized performance busyness, and I bet you have too.

In both our heads and hearts we know this isn’t the way of Jesus. Funt, though not a Christian, points to a deeper truth: “There is visible work and invisible work. Thinking, pondering, considering, reframing, mulling, concocting, questioning, and dreaming—none of these require a single muscle to be moved in order to be enacted. We only see the results when completed, not in the process.”

For three years Global Trellis has created an end-of-year packet that allows cross-cultural workers to reflect on the year that is ending and prepare for the upcoming year.

As someone who saw an advanced copy said, “I just skimmed the packet. The colors are soothing, and in a year of less capacity than in the past, it feels nice to have a guide through this.”

Jesus loves to do invisible and visible work with you. We need to value and make time for both.

If you are wanting a minute to think about this past year and gather thoughts for the next, you can. The way of Jesus involves oxygen for your soul to reflect, think, and even dream. Either take a few minutes now to review your year with Jesus or you can get the reflecting packet here.

Photo by kevin turcios on Unsplash

What if 2019 was a disaster?

Earlier this month Global Trellis held six parties (hello time zones, we see you and we will outsmart you!). The parties allowed cross-cultural workers to share parts of a reflection packet for 2019. I hired my niece to help with the admin side of a Facebook Live Party and ten minutes before the first one started she said, “Do you think this will work?”

“I don’t know, but even if it is a total disaster, it will be okay!” (One of us tends to leap before we look; guess who!)

Prior to the parties, people signed up for and received a ten-page packet designed to “Reflect on 2019 and Prepare for 2020.” 

Perhaps you are reading this and thinking, “Ain’t no way I’d join a party like that, 2019 was a nightmare!!” 

First of all, I’m sorry. Hard seasons are scary, disappointing, confusing, long, exhausting, lonely, and to use a math term, Unpleasant37.

But at each party, someone would bravely share something like this (based on real comments made during the party, but details have been changed:

“Twelve months ago we had just launched a new ministry with a bunch of non-believers coming; and in the midst of that our child had a breakdown and had to leave school. I was home barely able to even leave our child to go to the local grocery store even. It was really, really dark and hard and scary.”

Maybe when you think back to last January, you can relate to having the rug pulled out.

When someone shared,

“This has been an extremely difficult year. I was actually dreading going back over it if I am honest…but, it was good to see how many good things happened too and the ways He carried us. That part was super valuable because I had only been seeing the negative lately.”

Another person responded,

“Jane, it was one of the hardest we’ve ever had too and I agree with what you said. I was surprised looking back how much good I saw too.”

Their responses reminded me of a study done by the University of California. “Participants who processed a negative experience through writing or talking reported improved life satisfaction and enhanced mental and physical health relative to thosewho [merely] thought about it.”2

No, it doesn’t remove the negative experience; all of the people who shared that 2019 was a hard year will remember it as a hard year. But by taking the time with God to reflect on the year (that’s the writing about it part) and then share in a party (that’s the talking about it part), they were able to process it more effectively than merely thinking about it.

Turning over a page in a calendar triggers a time of reflection and you might think “Rats, I missed it, it is already January 20th!” Nonsense. God wants to meet with you and review how life is going. 

Not sure where to start? How to do a Visual Examen for the New Year written by Sarah Simons has a great list of questions. Though you missed this years parties, you can still get the “Reflecting and Preparing Packet” here. Download it and give yourself a couple of days to do it . . . and then have your own party! From personal experience, “Bimbo donuts” are a wondaful party treat.

Don’t hope you reflect, get your calendar out right now and mark a time to “meet with Bimbo Donuts” so you too can process honestly negative (and positive) experiences from last year. The enemy wants to rob you of honestly praying about and processing your year; God, however, wants to meet and minister to you in the hard places.

As one participant said during a party, “I especially appreciated the highlights/goals section of the packet and the reflecting on the year month-by-month. The whole packet was wonderful though, and really helpful as a guide to think and pray through things I may not have thought of on my own.” 

It is not too late for you!


37 Unpleasant to the power of 37

2 The costs and benefits of writing, talking, and thinking about life’s triumphs and defeats.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16649864