Januarys are always times for reflection – how we did over the past year, what our plans are for the new year, what we all hope to improve in our lives.
For me, it’s worse: I’m a January baby, so I have all of the questions that arise from growing older too. I figure out what David Bowie did at my age, count my friends with babies, and lament that I’m one step closer to aging out of the most influential TV demographic: white men from the age of 18 to 34.
Every year, I try to reflect on how I did spiritually too, but I tend to either be too hard on myself, focusing on all my sin, or too light, excusing my bad behavior. My appraisal of my year depends on my mood and not what actually happened.
To get over this, Christians have often used something called the “examen” to reflect, traditionally daily but it works as a yearly practice too. An examen is a structured way to look back on your past and ask yourself awkward questions. By forcing myself into a structure I can praise God like he deserves and repent of my sin as I ought.
The pattern is usually something like this: you thank God for the gifts you’ve received, ask for grace to see your life clearly, review the past season by season, ask for God’s forgiveness, and resolve, in concrete ways, to act differently.
This reflection only works if we have a confident assurance of God’s love and affection. That is the only way we can praise God for his goodness without fawning and reflect on our sin without terror. Because God sees us, knows us, and loves us we can be honest with ourselves and with him.
I still hate self reflection. It makes me anxious, and a little sad (though I’m starting to come to peace with the fact that I’ll never be Bowie). But if I’m confident of God’s love, looking at my past year doesn’t need to be a terror but, instead, it can be a way that I can grow in love for him and love for other people.
So here is what I’ll be praying this January, as I try to know myself and God better:
“Searcher of Hearts:
Give me grace to recall my needs,
my lack of knowing thy will in Scripture,
of wisdom to guide others,
of daily repentance, want of which keeps thee at bay,
of the spirit of prayer, having words without love,
of zeal for thy glory, seeking my own ends,
of joy in thee and thy will,
of love to others.
And let me not lay my pipe
too short of the fountain,
never touching the eternal spring,
never drawing down water from above.”
(“Self-Knowledge,” Valley of Vision, 122-123)