What’s Another Year? The Wisdom of Looking Back

January 2, 2024 in Uncategorized

Ignatius Loyola’s great insight came while he was convalescing. Initially, God was communicating within him through his daydreams leading him away from selfish pride and towards self-giving service of others. It was only on reflection, looking back over his experience, that Ignatius could sort out what was genuinely from God. It would take him many years to be able to listen fully to what God was saying, to temper his own unruly impulses, and so be of real service to the world.

God seems to work with us slowly and patiently through different experiences, and we need need to take time to reflect or look back, to recognise this. As Danish philosopher Kierkegaard says, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”.

The end of one year and the beginning of another is a really good time to look back and evaluate the experiences of a whole twelve months. It can be easy to write the year off as being ‘past’ or over. We may want to just focus on moving on but there are surprising discoveries to be made in following a simple reflective process.

Undoubtedly there will be ups and downs, laughter and tears, light and darkness. But a bit like getting to a mountain top, you can see the path you have walked from the summit, and that helps you work out the best way of getting down. This moment of taking stock or looking back over your life journey for the last year can yield surprising results. You can see more clearly and it helps you to travel forward. Key to the process is connecting yourself to the ‘light’ or God, which allows you to see and uncover the darkness that only obscures things.

The ‘Examen’ is a helpful tool in reviewing how you have been during the year. It can help you to discover where God has been in it all. It is much easier to see looking back. Often we can put a negative slant on our memories of the past and it is important to try to balance that. Find a quiet space and try to put aside an hour for reflection. Some people find a lighted candle helpful as a reminder to ‘live in the light’.

The five steps are:

  1. Ask God for light in order to see what stands out from the past year. (I try to see the year through God’s eyes, not merely my own).
  2. Give thanks: get in touch with gratitude for the year you have just lived is a gift from God. This can be a struggle again as negativity can dominate, but there are always some gifts to focus on.
  3. Review the year chronologically, being guided by the Holy Spirit. In going back through the year, it can be helpful to use a diary or even photos on your phone, often you can be surprised about all the things you did, people you met, and may have forgotten much.
  4. Face your mistakes or shortcomings. Accept you may have done wrong, acknowledge mistakes, and work out what you would do better to improve.
  5. Look toward to the year ahead and ask God for help to live it better.

It can be helpful to write your observations or insights in a diary or journal to get them clear in your head. The desire to look at the coming year naturally flows from this exercise. What kind of year do you want, it to be? What would you like to happen and what do you want to avoid? It is worth taking time to look at this carefully, maybe as a separate exercise. Begin by looking at what you really want – what is going to satisfy your soul? It’s all about tuning into this experience of a God who is near, who wants the best for us, and who is trying to communicate with us through reflection and prayer.