Review, Reflect, and Imagine

Getting a grip on the busy-ness trap of ministry (and life!)

Review, Reflect, Imagine 2017

One of the biggest traps of ministry (and life!) in the 21st Century is falling into the abyss of busy-ness. Almost everyone I know (myself included) seems to answer the question of “How are you?” with “Too busy!!” The first steps in getting out of this busy-ness trap are to review and reflect on how life has been, and then imagine how you want it to be. 

This week between Christmas and New Year is a prime time for folks to take stock of life. Put a stake in the ground, draw a line in the sand, declare “this far and no farther” to the rising tide of ToDo items that have threatened to overwhelm.

This is not necessarily “resolution setting.” A regular, intentional time to review and reflect on what has happened over the previous period of time (a year, season, month, week, or even day) and contemplate whether the actions you took were in alignment with your goals and values is the first step in getting off the busy train. This is a process that too many people skim over and then wonder how they “got off track.”

You too? Need a little nudge or a hint on how to start?

If you don’t know where you are, how can you plan a route to where you’re going? ~Sr. Becky

It’s very in-vogue this year to bash on the futility of New Year’s Resolutions. I suppose that’s true. They don’t stick. So I’m not talking about resolutions. But I am talking about taking an honest look at how things are going. In theological education we call this Action-Reflection-Action model. You do some stuff. You pause and reflect (usually with a mentor or coach) on how it went, you imagine how you want it to be different next time, and then you try it again.

This is true in ministry, it’s true in corporate life, it’s even true in piano lessons. Mindless repetition does not get you far. Pausing to reflect (with a mentor or coach, is best), identifying what you want to be different, planning what you’ll do differently to get that different outcome, and then trying it again, is the path to success.

I have found a couple (well, at least three) new truths this year:

1) My own life-long struggle to avoid getting distracted by less-important but seemingly urgent tasks continues. (I call it “manufactured chaos.” I like to think it’s usually manufactured by someone else. But not always.)

2) The amount of actually important, time-consuming stuff can be really overwhelming.

3) Lots of folks don’t have a concrete plan to change that overwhelmed feeling. (And a very few would actually prefer to complain than change it.)

Over the next couple of posts, I’ll share with you my current way of thinking about taming the busy-ness monster in my own ministry (and life!) and hopefully you’ll be able to pick up a trick or two to try yourself.

What you’ll need:

To get started you’ll need just a few low-tech things you should have nearby.

  1. 7-14 (or more) sheets of paper
  2. pens or pencils
  3. a timer

Listen, I can easily lose an entire day to researching this or that, or (heaven forbid) hours of precious life scrolling through social media feeds. When it comes to this “Review & Reflect” stuff it is essential to set time-limits. Especially if it feels like a chore or a necessary evil.

Set a timer and stick to the task until the timer goes off. Then give yourself a reward; a quick walk around the apartment, a couple pages of that novel you’re reading, a healthy snack; whatever is your reward. But don’t forget to come back for Step 2!

Where are we now? ~David Bowie

Step 1 – Review 

Time: About 50 minutes
(7-minutes per page)

For each area of your life, think back over the last year and answer the following questions:

  • What stands out as having gone well?
  • What do you remember about the things you wish had gone better?

I have been using the Wholeness Wheel lately, but there are other ways to think of the different areas of your life. If you’re not going to use a handy pre-made scheme like the Wholeness Wheel, then spend 10 minutes making your own list of components before doing the exercise.

Wholeness Wheel

  • Vocational
  • Intellectual
  • Social/Interpersonal
  • Emotional
  • Physical
  • Financial
  • Spiritual

Use one sheet of paper for each category.  You can go in any order. Set the timer for 7-minutes and start on the first category.

Write as much as you can in 7 minutes. Use those two questions to focus your thoughts if you get stumped.

If you’re a list maker, great! Make lists.

If you’re a mind-mapper, great! Map away!

Color coder? Don’t spend time making it pretty. This is a brain dump. The faster the better. Automatic writing. Keep checking in with your gut and your head, but put the decorative urges on hold for now.

Writing slowing you down? Have you tried speech-to-text apps? (However — there is a LOT of evidence showing a significant cognitive advantage to analog methods of writing on paper.)

Whatever way it works for you is the best way to do this. Just get your thoughts out of your head and onto the paper.

When the timer goes off, take the next sheet of paper and start on the next category as before.

Ready? Review!

When you’re done, here’s a prayer for your year.

Holy God, thank you for this past year and the ways that you have been with me through it all, even if I didn’t always remember or feel your presence. Some of this year has been pretty hard. And some of it has been so wonderful. Amen

Take a short break. (Maybe watch this.)

Step 2: Reflect

Time: About 35 minutes
(5 minutes per page)

I hope you took a proper break. Probably, you stewed and chewed on what you wrote through your whole break. Or maybe it seemed like what you wrote flew right out of your head. Either way, that percolation period of the break is an important component in my experience. (If you didn’t take one, now would be a good time.)

I suggest starting the next step with a short centering prayer.

Creator of Time, help me reflect on this past year and discern how I might better follow you in each area of my life. As I think about the choices I’ve made, help me see how you have blessed me with creativity and growing wisdom. I also ask forgiveness for the poorer choices I’ve made; things I’ve done and things I’ve left undone. Amen

Using a timer again, spend 5-minutes per page to read what you’ve written and try to answer the following questions:

  • What do you want/need to keep doing?
  • What do you want/need to stop doing?
  • What do you want/need to change?

Now you could color code what you’ve written; or you could draw three columns on separate piece of paper, title the columns “Keep”, “Stop”, and  “Change” and write items from your brain dump page into the appropriate column; or circle what you want to keep, cross out what you want to stop, and draw a box around what you want to change. Don’t over think it. Just sort what you’ve written.

Ready? Reflect!

God of new beginnings and three-hundred-and-sixty-fifth chances, help me stay focused on how I can best use my time and talents in serving your people and your creation. As I think about this coming year, I want to turn from those things that keep me from living the full and abundant life you want for me and I pray not just for forgiveness but for the strength to do what I need to do differently next year. Amen

Take a short break.

Step 3: Imagine

Time: about 35 minutes
(5 minutes per page)

Sometimes people start to get creative in that last step. That’s OK if it happened, but we want to reserve some centered time to imagine what would be best for us in each area.

God of Infinite Imagination, help me see the possibilities you have in mind for me. At the same time, help me not get discouraged if it seems like I have to do all things all at once. Remind me that this wonderful life is not actually a contest. Amen

Answer the following question for each category (don’t spend more than 5-minutes per page!)

  • What is ONE* goal in this area of your life, that you are not tending to (or not tending well), that could make a significant** improvement in how you are able to live more fully as the person God has made you to be?

Try not to get too “task-y” with this one. While “drink more water” might be your action step, aim more for the goal that the action step is moving you toward. I might drink more water because my goal was “Pay more attention to digestive health” or “Care more for my skin” or even “Be more mentally alert”! In all those cases, drinking more water is the action step, not the goal. Aim for the higher level goal at this step.

*Avoid the temptation of listing two or three goals for each area. Ultimately, you’re only going to be able to focus on 1-3 at a time and choosing one per area will already give you seven!

**Significant – you be the judge. Remember: This is not about “fixing” you. You are already beloved of God. This is about taking a fearless inventory of yourself and acknowledging what is getting in your way of fully loving God, loving yourself, and loving your neighbor. This is not the resurrection where it happens in the twinkling of an eye. Or in a single year. What is the next right thing to aim for?

Ready? Imagine!

Good and gracious God, thank you, again for all that has been part of my life this past year. Guide and strengthen me as I seek to ever more faithfully follow your call to love you and love my neighbor this coming year. Amen


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Becky Swanson is a deacon with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). She is also a member of the Deaconess Community (that's where the "Sister" thing comes from.)

She works with women in ministry who want to be more creative and joyful in their leadership that transform their communities.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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