For some people January 1st is just another day. They may view birthdays and anniversaries in the same light. While we can invest too much meaning in these special days, we would also miss something if we fail to make time to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we hope to be going -- both naturally and spiritually.
Among the useful human abilities are those of:
• Setting goals.
• Assessing the progress we’re making toward those goals.
• Recognizing what we need to do differently to better achieve a desired goal.
Achieving important goals almost always requires conscious choice -- and usually a pattern of repeated choices both large and small. While we need to count on the miraculous help that the Lord can give us, we also need to recognize that He counts on our conscious cooperation in achieving many of the important goals we can pursue.
The author C.S. Lewis in his book Screwtape Letters has a senior devil, Screwtape, giving counsel to a junior devil. Lewis uses this counsel to make many points about how evil succeeds in achieving its goals. One such observation by Screwtape is “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one -- the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” Screwtape means “safest.” From his perspective, that is the one most likely to succeed in corrupting a person.
The Lord calls us to not only look at the broad pattern of words and deeds that have made up our lives; for example, as we look over the previous year, but also to look at the intentions behind these words and deeds. I hope that you clearly recognize one to three important and focused areas of your life for which you want to ask the Lord’s help. I also hope you see some signs of spiritual progress when you reflect on where your life has been and where it is now.
While many people think of the work of self-examination as being a private matter, there can be value in having one or more good friends, even a small group of them, that support you in reflecting on how you’re responding to the events of your life. Just the act of talking with others, wisely listening can help many of us see otherwise clouded and confused perspectives more clearly.
This idea is reflected in the following:
“...without reflection we know nothing, except that we are, and nothing else, not what we are. On the other hand, if we reflect upon ourselves from [the viewpoint of] others, or allow others to reflect upon us, and to say what we are like, then for the first time we are able to know ourselves. Otherwise we can never learn, but remain in our own illusions, and from them, reflect upon others.” (Spiritual Experiences 734)