One of the biggest gifts I gave myself a few years ago was permission to reflect. For years, I resisted the practice of personal reflection. I told myself the story that reflection always involved revisiting something painful, difficult, or embarrassing. I’m not certain if it’s my enneagram type or my disdain for focusing too much of my attention on things that cannot be changed, but until recently I always associated reflection with something negative.
Once I realized reflection was a neutral and highly beneficial practice which enabled me to go forward with grace, I embraced it.
The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I spent a significant amount of time reflecting on the previous year while also chilling and consuming snacks because, you know—holidays and stuff. One theme kept coming up—what goes in also comes out. In 2020 several habits were formed, paused, or accelerated in my life—some that drew me closer to Jesus and others that pulled me away. I won’t list them all, but it’s my hope that the three I will unpack here might resonate with you.
Habit #1: I took in a lot of social media. I am not the person who is going to tell you that social media is bad—because it’s not. Social media is neutral—people are variables. We are the ones who determine whether the content we contribute or consume on social media is good, bad, or otherwise. As I reflected on my scrolling habits, a few things stood out to me.
I was more anxious. Coronavirus, politics, racial tensions, internet fighting, misinformation, conspiracy theories, baseless accusations, marching, looting, slander, and death—so much death. It was too much for my mind and heart to handle, but I didn’t have great boundaries in place.
I was more informed. Sometimes this was helpful, like when I was casting my vote in the national election or writing a blog post. More often, it was another source of anxiety. I found myself more frustrated by differing perspectives even those held by people I know and love.
I was more angry. It’s normal and healthy to have friends and family who hold different views and in my experience, those differences have made for lively conversations and debates. Last year though—well there were some views I learned I couldn’t embrace or tolerate, even in small doses and from six feet away. I was so angry and my anger occasionally translated to an unwillingness to extend grace. For my own mental, emotional, and even spiritual health, I hid some people from my feeds.
I was more curious. I wanted to consider current issues thoughtfully through the lens of the gospel. I watched The Social Dilemma and I know the danger of creating echo chambers on social media, so I went on a scavenger hunt. I looked to people I trusted and asked myself who or what enabled them to think outside of the scientific, political, and religious boxes I felt stuffed into. In the end, I found people who love Jesus and live in the tensions of life, refusing to align with any specific agenda other than Jesus’s. It was refreshing.
Habit #2: I started working out. Once Covid reached the United States and individual states began enacting shelter in place orders, people started trying new things. For a while, it seemed as though everyone was either baking bread, getting a puppy, doing home renovations, or beginning a new workout routine. I resisted all of them initially, thinking we would stay home for a few weeks and then get back to normal. As weeks turned to months, I recognized I needed an outlet. Here are some things I noticed.
Movement helped my body. Early on in what I refer to as Covid days, I was experiencing anxiety and mild panic attacks. I couldn’t get my mind to focus and often felt my heart racing while I reclined on the couch. I did lots of deep breathing exercises, and those helped some, but when I started practicing yoga and going on regular walks I felt physically better. I slept better too.
I gained muscle strength. As a woman in my mid-late thirties who has birthed three babies, I noticed that my core strength and muscle tone weren’t what they used to be. I had major shoulder surgery in 2018 and only completed physical therapy eighteen months ago. In that time of inactivity, I grew weak and lost confidence. A friend of mine regularly posted clips of her workouts on Instagram stories and I was inspired to try them. So I reached out. I have definitely looked better, but I’ve never felt better, stronger, and more confident than I do right now.
I found quiet. Going on walks at a nearby park was great. It allowed me time out of the house and in the sun. Often, I would listen to some music or a podcast, but that became a distraction from simply being alone with God. I wanted to hear nothing but the sound of my own breath, the beating of my own heart, and the still, small voice of God. So when I wasn’t walking with a friend socially distanced, I was getting quiet.
Practice makes progress. I’ve practiced the disciplines of silence and meditation for years, but training my mind to quiet down while on a walk at a public park took some time. I had to learn the subtle art of refocusing. I learned how often I reach for my phone (p.s. it’s a lot more than I thought). Over time, quieting my mind and heart took less time and tuning into the Spirit became natural. Those solo walks were not only a reprieve from the stress of that season, they were life-giving. From a physical standpoint, I built endurance—I started walking one mile and have gradually grown to walking or jogging four miles. It feels great.
Habit #3: I started writing more. It seems bizarre to write this because I feel so connected to you now, but at the very beginning of 2020, this blog didn’t even exist. Look what we created together! If I had known ten years ago that you would be here and that my words would offer you hope, connection, and a way forward in faith, I would have started then. But I didn’t—I started last year. Here’s what I noticed.
I was freaked the !*%# out. I had written privately in journals off and on for most of my life. They were not intended for public consumption. As a student I was constantly writing papers—but my professors were paid to read and grade them. For me, writing has often been personal performance-based, not others transformation-minded. I wanted to get an A on every paper. I also wanted to help people, but at the end of the day, I didn’t know if anyone would show up and read what I wrote. I had trained myself to work for the grade. The day I decided that didn’t matter was the day I published my first post.
I am always surprised by what resonates with you. It’s tempting to write only about hot-button issues or current events (and 2020 had all of those). Sometimes it’s right and good and necessary to address the issues of the day out of love. I don’t want to write in a vacuum because we don’t live in one. Even still, I pray every week that I am writing what God puts on my heart in an effort to serve you. Sometimes, I write about something I’m learning and I think “Oh this is really going to touch their hearts” and then one of you will text, comment, or email me an excerpt that really stuck with you and I’ll think—wow!
Writing is an act of worship. I realize now that God has given me a gift for finding words. Every situation I have faced, I know I have not been alone. God is near. I am passionate about sharing my life and faith with you. It is part of my unique calling. I learned a long time ago that to simply do what God created you to do is an act of worship. Every article, every caption, every post—they are all an offering to God. I trust that as I write the words, God uses them to bring honor and glory to himself.
It is a good practice to reflect back on what we have consumed—the things we have allowed to shape us. I noticed many things about myself and my habits over the previous year. It was a mercy that sometimes these habits drew me closer to God. Sometimes it was intentional, but sometimes it was a slow awareness.
It is by grace that I noticed when my habits (sometimes the same ones) drew my gaze away from God. Knowing where I have fallen short is an opportunity to repent and try again. I am so grateful that I gave myself permission to practice personal reflection all those years ago. Through it, God has lovingly pruned away dead branches which bear no fruit and prevent new growth.
It is my prayer that you, too, have the opportunity to reflect on the habits that have shaped you. Once we acknowledge and name what we have allowed in, we can invite the Holy Spirit to help us discern what should stay, what should go, and what growth we can look forward to.