(This was originally published in On the Common in December 2021)
A date that is coming up on my calendar is my yearly “meeting with myself.” I’ve had a few friends ask about this annual ritual, so I thought I would try to recap some of what I do during that day. It has become a precious time for me, one in which I put the old year to bed (as much as I can) and prayerfully set out intentions for the next year (as much as I can).
Keep in mind that my thoughts, questions, and intentions are very specific to my job over the years: a stay-at-home homeschooling mother of five children. If this is not your job, your day should look different and consider different things.
Also, please keep in mind that I didn’t do this last year. It was too difficult for me to think ahead and make plans mid-pandemic. Quite frankly, it was too sad. I felt overwhelmed by a lot of things. If this is how you feel this year, maybe a better use of your time would be to schedule a hike for yourself, or a day of shopping, or a movie marathon at home.
OK, enough with the caveats. Onward.
An underrated part of this exercise is going to a place you like. You can do this at your house, for example, if you have little children for whom you are responsible. However, if you can arrange to have the children looked after for a few hours, you will find yourself oh-so-much-more refreshed and able to focus. I usually try to have this meeting during the week between Christmas and New Years, which is quite possibly my favorite week of the year. I think we should call it The Week of Appropriately Low Expectations.
Anyway, find somewhere you like to be alone: a cafe or a park or a library. Order yourself a pot of tea or a full French Press, and dive in.
I begin with what Sally Clarkson calls “decluttering your soul” — a careful evaluation of the need for confession, spiritual weakness, or guilt. Just as we spend time clearing out the clutter from our homes around this time, we can spend some time identifying and praying through things that might need to be addressed at years’ end.
This part of the day might leave me with things I need to talk through: with a counselor, a friend, a mentor, or my husband.
Goals for Me/Goals for Others
Then, I move on to working through goals for the year, in different areas: physical, emotional, and spiritual. This portion includes answering questions like:
- What exercise/health goals do I have for this year? What measurable steps can I take to achieve them?
- How can I make sure I’m getting enough rest?
- Are there improvements I can make to any relationships? Family? Friends?
- What spiritual disciplines do I want to work on this year? How will I go about it? What books do I want to read for spiritual improvement and accountability this year? What Bible verses would be helpful for me to memorize and meditate on in this season of my life?
Now, real talk for a second — my number one weakness in this exercise is that I want to do ALL THE THINGS! AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! The key to these questions is understanding the season you’re in, being patient with yourself, and setting realistic goals.
For me, in years past, this has looked like any of the following (not a complete list):
- One year, I had some lofty running goals. I put my running schedule on my google calendar because when that’s done, I plan better around it and actually do it.
- I scheduled a one-on-one with each of my kids each month. These dates also needed to go on the calendar.
- I made a list of the books I’d like to read or revisit that year. I am never at a shortage for things I’d like to read, but I try to be intentional about which ones would serve my season of parenting, my discipling relationships and my current struggles. This is also the moment when I give myself a lecture about reading books I already own instead of buying more (anyone else?).
- Every year at this time, I concretely plan for what I’m studying in the Bible this year. “Concretely” means I have to decide today — no putting it off, although I reserve my right to change my mind. This step might involve ordering a book or study.
The next thing I consider is my marriage. This is a section where I might have more questions for David than answers for myself at the moment. We usually have a follow-up meeting in the following week, considering things like expectations, communication, and the like. We also go over the portions below dedicated to the kids and looking ahead at travel for the year.
Next, I move on to each of the kids. Are there things that are getting overlooked for any of them? Requests they’ve made? Areas of learning where they might be slipping? Adjustments that need to be made? Ways we can pray for them? Being a mom of a lot of kids means that I sometimes think of them as a group instead of individuals. This is a moment to spend on each one alone.
Time for Fun
Then I move on to working on goals for fun. We are a family that likes to go places! Here are some of the ideas I’ve come up with in the past for cultivating fun and rhythms of rest and enjoyment in our family:
- My younger kids used to enjoy teatime once a week. I put it on the calendar. (You should notice by now that my google calendar runs my life!)
- I tweaked our approach to evening reading time with David so that it was more restful and less squeezed.
- I put a date on the calendar each month for us to do “city schooling.” The kids loved to do school in other places, and I did too. A change in atmosphere is so refreshing!
- The biggie: I wrote down all the trips we want to/need to take in the year, when they were scheduled, and any approximate costs we would incur for them. Here’s hoping we’ll be traveling more in 2022.
When I’ve worked through myself and the family, if I have time left, I spend time on some other things. Since I’m trying to blog more regularly, I might make a list of topics I’ve been mulling over but haven’t gotten to yet.
All of this sounds dreadfully boring, doesn’t it? But it nails down some structure for human flourishing. It sets goals for soul-feeding. That’s what we want — to catch these days and bend them to our wills. We want to redeem the time and use it well (Eph. 5:16).
I want to emphasize that your structure will look different from mine. Life stages, employment, ages of children, and priorities dictate how we spend our time and honor the Lord with it. The schedule may fly out the window due to sickness, adding a baby, moving, job changes, etc. But an underlying structure can give a family a rhythm to return to.
Related resources that might be helpful:
Don Whitney’s questions for year-end
Lore Wilbert’s questions for year-end
Verses to meditate on during this practice:
James 4:13-15 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
Psalm 90:12: So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.