I’ve found that the act of remembering is crucial to our spirituality. All throughout the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), we see the invitation of the Law, Prophets, and poetry, all crying out to its hearers:
The call remains the same thousands of years later. Of course, the invitation is not to just reminisce for the sake of nostalgia. Like all spiritual practices, it is an invitation to do something “with God.” Through His empowerment, to look at our lives and to excavate it for His fingerprints and to discover His faithfulness and goodness in it. Sometimes it takes some time to remember in a way that yields reflection and a listening spirit. We need to slow down. We need to make space. But I find that when I ‘get there’ – when I force myself into the quiet and stillness – God is always faithful to meet me there. However, sometimes it takes a while.
Frederick Buechner wrote in his book A Room Called Remember,
The past and the future. Memory and expectation. Remember and hope. Remember and wait. Wait for him whose face we all of us know because somewhere in the past we have faintly seen it, whose life we all of us thirst for because somewhere in the past we have seen it lived, have maybe even had moments of living it ourselves. Remember him who himself remembers us as he promised to remember the thief who died beside him. To have faith is to remember and wait, and to wait in hope is to have what we hope for already begin to come true in us through our hoping. Praise him. (p. 12)
I’ve found that the ‘hope that begins to come true through our hoping’ is a beautiful reality in our journey with God.
Remember and Wait
One of the key formative exercises that I do every year is the Examen Prayer. While the Examen Prayer is something that I practice frequently (daily and weekly), I’ve also found it to be quite transformative to block out some time at the end of the year to practice this prayer of ‘remembering with the Lord.’ Here is a good structure for an End of the Year Examen that I’ve used numerous times.
Year End Examen Prayer
Step One: Become aware of God’s presence.
One way of doing this is to ask the Holy Spirit to help you review the year with a holy perspective—with wisdom, grace, and faith. Ask for the grace to tear yourself away from your own patterns of thinking and seeing so that you can see your life more as God sees it. Of course you will see your failings—but God sees you as a beloved daughter or son who has a future and a hope. Of course you will see your accomplishments—but God sees your deeper self, the person behind all the activity, a person made in God’s image.
Step Two: Review the year with gratitude.
As you use this holy perspective to review the year, pay attention to the good gifts from the year ending. Name specifically those that come to memory now, and thank God for them.
Step Three: Pay attention to your emotions.
Think over the year again, and notice your emotional reactions. What memories speak most loudly to you? What events, conversations, relationships, or activities bring up the most emotion now, as you remember them? Ask God to help you linger with these emotions, whether they are pleasant or disturbing. Ask for help in understanding why you feel as you do. What can you learn about yourself or about your situation as you dwell in your emotional responses?
Step Four: Choose one feature of the year and pray from it.
While you are lingering with your memories and emotions, settle on one feature. Perhaps it is a single event, or maybe it’s a pattern of your own behavior that has come to mind as you reviewed the year. Whatever it is that has emerged, allow it to fuel your prayer. Don’t worry about the many other aspects of the year that you could think about right now; stay with the one thing that has come to you with the most power and pray from those thoughts and emotions.
Step Five: Look toward the new year.
Imagine what challenges and blessings might await you in the coming year. Think of important relationships, major (and minor) decisions to be made, skills to learn, habits to build, healing to seek, good work to accomplish. Make a simple list of highlights—matters that you expect to take prominence in your life in the new year. Bring them to God now, and ask for the graces you will need.
End your prayer, thanking God for love and life and holy possibilities.
A Word For the New Year
Another practice that I’ve found very meaningful is the discipline of praying for a “word” to focus on as I enter a new year. This isn’t a New Year’s resolution, wishful thinking, or even an envisioning exercise – this is making space to be quiet in the Lord’s presence, and asking:
“Lord, what might You be inviting me to this year?”
“What is a heart posture that you may be inviting me to take this year?
This word is not something to cling to dogmatically, but to hold gently and tenderly throughout the upcoming year. Like carrying a delicate flower or fragile item in the palm of your hand, this word is something to come back to and loosen our grip on our will throughout the year. We often white-knuckle our experience of life, just hanging on, but I’ve found this prayer word for the year is something that helps me to regather my scattered affections throughout the year.
Bless you, as you ‘remember with God’ and listen for His voice as you enter this next year.