The approach of a new year is an annual invitation to look ahead. Many of us do so with resolute determination, hence New Year’s resolutions. But before you gaze over the 2018 horizon, here’s an idea. Look back on the year gone by and ask a few questions. Looking at where you’ve been can help clarify where you’re going and renew your energy to get there. Here are some questions to consider.
What were some accomplishments in 2017? When missionary life is busy, time to reflect on what you’ve done may seem like a luxury you can’t afford. Actually, some argue that it’s something you can’t afford not to do. Writing for Fast Company, Ximena Vengoechea says that whenever she does something she’s proud of, she writes it on a piece of paper that goes in her “accomplishments box.” The important thing about the box, she says, which can be any kind of container you choose, “is that it’s visible and available to you to return to as often as you’d like and to remind yourself of all the great things you’ve been up to.” In his Inc. article 3 Reasons Celebrating Your Accomplishments Is Critical to Your Success, Bill Carmody says that when you celebrate, endorphins are released in your body that make you feel good. The act of celebrating also “reinforces the behavior you want to show up when you face a new challenge or opportunity.”
What were some losses? Why in the world would you want to review losses you’ve suffered over the past year? Good question. And while there’s not a simple answer, there are plenty of reasons to reflect on losses. A big one is that acknowledging a loss gives you permission to process the pain of it. In her book Door of Hope, Christian counselor Jan Frank says that the very act of talking about a painful experience helps to loosen its negative grip on you. Another reason to look at your ministry losses is because there are lessons to be learned in that exercise. It’s been wisely said that the most difficult parts of life are the most important, because that’s when we grow and learn the most. Easy times seldom deliver crucial life lessons.
Are there some changes you need to consider? The lessons you learn by reviewing wins and losses sometimes surface the need for important changes. Perhaps your vision needs to be revisited. Maybe the vision is sound but you need to pursue it differently. Or you might know exactly what needs to happen but you’ve put off too many important things for too long. Here’s a simple suggestion. Make a list of those things and start on the first one. When you finish, scratch it off the list and take note of how that makes you feel. In her Forbes article “Finding the Right Balance between Being Effective and Productive,” Dr. Rachel MK Headley writes: “Recent studies have found that our brains get a dopamine hit when we cross items off our to-do list.” How does that help? Psychology Today says that dopamine “helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.”
As a missionary, the work you do is eternally important. As the New Year approaches, may you find new energy to pursue it with your whole heart.