It is only the fifth day of the new year and I am already feeling tired and frazzled. And I know why. Yes the end of 2000 saw me travelling a bit. Yes, dad’s health is a concern. Yes there was the usual running around preparing the boys for a new school year. But I knew my tiredness was not caused by any of these. I am tired and frazzled because I did not take time to do my usual end of year reflection.
At the end of each year, I would take about half a day or more to reflect on the year that was passing. I would then seek the Lord for the year that was about to begin. And I have not done it this year.
Therefore it can be no coincidence that I happened to be reading Elizabeth O’Connor’s classic, Letters to Scattered Pilgrims, while waiting for an appointment yesterday.
“It just so happened” that the reading was from a passage that gave suggestions as to how one could have a time of reflection on New Year’s day. O’Conner suggested that we use the following questions to guide our reflection:
How did the year begin? What were the events of winter? Of spring? Of fall? (Those of us who don’t live in temperate climates will have to adapt accordingly.)
What took place in your home relations? Your work relations? Your church relations? What events in the larger community of city, country and world most captured your attention?
Who were the significant people in your life? What books and art instructed your mind and heart?
Did you create anything this year? Did you make any new discoveries about yourself? How were you a gift last year to a person, a community or an institution?
What was your greatest joy in the year gone? What was your greatest sorrow? What caused you the most disappointment? What caused you the most sadness?
In what areas of life did you grow? Were these areas related to your joy or your pain?
What were your regrets? How would you do things differently if you could live the year again? What did you learn?
Did you have a recurring dream? What theme or themes ran through the year?
Did you grow in your capacity to be a person in community-to bear your own burdens, to let others bear theirs? Did you have sufficient time apart for yourself?
Did you root your life more firmly in Scripture? Did you grow in your understanding of yourself? What was your most important insight? Did God seem near or far off?
What did you feel is the message of the year? What do you think and feel that God might be saying to you?
As I glanced at the questions it immediately dawned on me that I had spent far more time attending to my outer world then in attending to my inner world. After all the world is changing rapidly. There was much to learn and master. My personal life was continuing to go through mega changes. So many questions needed my attention.
As a result the eyes of my soul were always looking outwards. There was little time to look inwards. I can’t help but be reminded afresh of the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42, and how Martha “was distracted by her many tasks” (NRSV). It so easy to neglect the one needful thing.
I don’t think the world is going to slow down anytime soon. Nor is it in any danger of becoming less complex.
Nevertheless, my inner life continues to cry out for attention. I will take some time out and reflect on 2000 with the help of O’Conner’s questions. Perhaps I will encourage a few close friends to do the same and then to spend time sharing what we have learnt. You may want to consider doing the same.
In a knowledge saturated society, we are inundated with so much information. The question of the hour may not be, “do we know the answers.” The question of the hour may be “do we know the questions.”
And O’Connor’s list seems a pretty good place to begin.