Two Practices for The Long Obedience in the Same Direction

I am wired to move forward.

In January I created a Reflecting on 2019 and Preparing for 2020 packet. During group calls with cross-cultural workers who used packet, many said they are similar to me. Others said, “What?! No, reflecting is the best; planning is the hard part.” Obviously, both are important. That being said, just because something is important, doesn’t mean we will do it.

Part of my “move forward” mentality influenced my understanding of debriefing for missionaries. I thought people went through debriefing when they left the field. So, when I left the field in a more traumatic (to me) fashion than for years I assumed I would, I attended a weeklong debriefing. I highly, highly recommend debriefing!

But one repeated statement shocked me.

“Debriefing isn’t only for those who are leaving the field.” 

Wait? What?

Turns out debriefing helps both those who like to move forward and need a nudge to reflect and those who like to reflect and need a nudge making plans.

Since I can’t go back and add more debriefing to my past, I can build more into my life and have found two practices that have allowed me to sort through experiences closer to real time but with enough distance to be valuable. 

The first practice is an “After Action Review.” I read about AARs in Your Best Year Ever by Michael Hyatt. They were designed by the US Army in 1981 to provide a structured way to look at “failure.” After learning about them, my hope is that you and your team will start implementing them.

I have already done three since January, one for the January Challenge I designed for Global Trellis, one for a cross-cultural worker conference I attended last weekend, and one for the April Challenge (also at Global Trellis). 

An After Action Review involves four stages:

  1. State what you wanted to happen.
  2. Acknowledge what actually happened. Tease out themes, single words or phrases, even complete sentences.
  3. Learn from the experience.
  4. Adjust your behavior.

Because models are helpful, you can see the After Action Review I did of the January Challenge here. I have included most of what I wrote (I’ve left out the parts that are private). I will admit I reluctantly did an AAR for the April Challenge. Probably like you, much of this season has been marked by disappointment and parts of the April Challenge did not go as I had hoped. I wondered if doing an AAR was going to depress me (and remind me of the plans and investment—both time and money—that had gone to “waste”). But I did an After Action Review and you know what?

More went well than I thought. By taking about 15 minutes to answer the four question I was able to both capture on paper (so I can refer back) and allow the Holy Spirit to extend grace to me (this really was an unusual spring, I can be nice to myself that it didn’t go as well as hoped). 

Whether you are looking forward to doing an AAR or dreading it, I’d encourage you, your spouse, and/or your team to build in the practice after larger events. In truth, if you do it yourself, they take about 15 minutes. If you do it in a group, each of you do one ahead of time and then give no more than 45 minutes to go over it as a group. This will help you stay focused.

The second practice is debriefing. My hope is that you do not find this statement shocking in the least: “Debriefing isn’t only for those who are leaving the field.”

Whether you have been through a traumatic experience or simply the normal rough and tumble of a year or two, debriefing can benefit you. Similar to an annual checkup at the doctor, debriefings help you to know where you are healthy, where you might be in a warning zone, and where you need to change or intervene right now. 

Often debriefing in-person is expensive or unavailable. Thankfully with the internet more accessible debriefing options exist. Whether you left or stayed for COVID-19, you have a lot to unpack. Here are two options for accessible debriefing that can be done where you are. 

When Jesus pulled away and spent time with His Father, in part, he modeled that a life time of ministry has times of reflection and times of action. The more you build these two practices into your life, the more you will become integrated and whole.

After Action Reviews are not just for businesses and debriefing isn’t just for those leaving the field. Instead, they are practices of those who participate in what Eugene Peterson called “the long obedience in the same direction.”

Photo by Tucker Tangeman on Unsplash

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Amy Young

Life enthusiast. Author. Sports lover. Jesus follower. Equipper of cross-cultural worker. Amy is the founder of Global Trellis, co-founder of Velvet Ashes, hosts reading challenges at The Messy Middle, and is the author of five books (Looming TransitionsLove, AmyEnjoying NewslettersGetting Started, and Connected.)

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