I poured some olive oil in the pan as it rested on top of the red-hot burner. My son-in-law prepared the steaks and set them in the blazing pan to sear them. Unfortunately, this combination created puffs of smoke and hazy air. The fire alarm began a loud resound of piercing beeps. We quickly opened doors and windows to let the smoke escape, hoping for the alarm to cease.

What went wrong? Was the pan too hot? Could the olive oil not handle the heat? Together we needed to reflect on the events in the kitchen in order to learn and not repeat the same mistake. Apparently, olive oil has a low “smoke point” of 325’F – clearly, our pan was much hotter than that. Next time, we plan to use avocado oil as its smoke point is 520’F. Nevertheless, in spite of the smoke, the steaks were delicious.

As the completion of the year 2021 approaches, I find myself reflective. When I ponder the past I learn and discern areas for celebration and growth. The past informs both the present and the future. Without reflection I will continue living with familiar attitudes and actions; change is unlikely. Honest reflection leads to authentic transformation.

Ponder – to think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.

Will you intentionally pause to ponder this past year? Are you open to reflecting on the past in order to move into the future with healthier habits, greater honesty with yourself and others, as well as pursuing more Christlike character?

Because of the fast-paced, techno driven culture in which we live, times for reflecting upon our day, month, year, or life seem elusive.

God’s Word points out the benefits of pondering, reflecting, and examining our days in Lamentations 3:40:“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” When we spend time to examine our ways, we learn from the Spirit and turn to faithfully follow God. Without taking a thoughtful survey of our life, we flounder and function with undiscerning and impulsive lives.

When we ask meaningful probing questions of ourselves, we position ourselves to grow more deeply as followers of Christ. Authentic living appears ambiguous when we only ask shallow superficial questions. Our souls long for deep meaning and thoughtful reflection.

The apostle Paul gave instructions to ponder our lives in 2 Corinthians 13:5: ”Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves…”

When I ponder my day, week, or year with the Lord, He not only shows me His goodness and presence but also those opinions and functions within me that He wants to refine. Through this contemplation, He aligns my heart with His. As I submit to the Spirit’s movement within, I notice those things I missed in the midst of a full calendar. I can look at the past through God’s lens and learn from Him.

Through pausing to ponder the past, we notice God’s activity in and around us. This allows the Holy Spirit to reveal His movements so we can better join into His work. We become aware of words, actions, thoughts and desires as they sift to the surface. Distractions, shame, dysfunction, joy, passion and growth come into view through this thoughtful practice, spurring deeper communion with our living God.

I commend the spiritual practice of pondering this past year in preparation for entering a new year. This offers a broad picture and positions us for growth.

Perhaps pull out your calendar from 2021 or look through your photos as reminders of what the year entailed. Consider the year month by month.

Begin by remembering God’s goodness! Give thanks! Place yourself in God’s presence and recognize His gifts and grace in your life during 2021!

After counting your blessings, offer a request to God. Pray for grace to understand the ways He directs your life. Ask God for an open heart as your reflect and ponder.

Next – reflect with God as your companion. Recall specific moments and your feelings at the time. Listen to God and notice where He was meeting you, encouraging you, convicting you, challenging you. As these things arise, encounter them with Jesus.

Some questions to ask yourself might be –

For what moment from this month am I most grateful? The least grateful?
When did I give and receive the most love? The least love?
When did I feel most alive in serving others? When did I feel drained?
When did I most experience joy? When did I experience sadness?
When did I feel most creative? When did I feel my creativity stifled?

Notice the highs from the year – those positive and encouraging moments; comforts to your soul; joys, and excitements. Thank God.

Consider the lows with the Lord – those sorrows, frustrations, and sins like anger, deceit, and pride. Thank God for His presence with you, even in the pain and rebellion of sin.

Look for God-moments – those times when you experienced God’s presence, delight, conviction, surprise, and contentment. Thank God for His goodness and grace.

After reflecting with God, come to Him in repentance and release. Notice when you were drawn to the love of God and when you pushed away God’s presence and care. Pay attention to the moments you refused the Spirit’s nudging within your soul and rejected God’s ways for personal pleasure and gain.

Approach God with sorrow for your sin. God’s voice to you is love, grace, delight, and encouragement. There is no condemnation from the Lord; His voice invites you to authenticity, redemption, and growth. Receive His cleansing by confessing sin, accepting responsibility for the damages done, and endeavoring to make amends with the Lover of your soul and those wronged by your attitudes and actions.

Lastly, experience renewal from God. Allow God to pour His abundant love over you. Receive God’s faithful redemptive work within your soul. Look toward the new year – How is God inviting you to live with Him? What attitudes and actions will you change with the help of the Holy Spirit? In what ways will your pursue depth with the Lord? Look with hope toward the new year! God is present with you and will continue to guide and renew you.

Remember, Request, Reflect, Repent, Renew – pause to ponder the past year with the Lord.

Thank God for the ways that pondering the past reveals His presence and power. When we reflect on the time God gives us, we become more discerning to His movements and live more authentically with Him, ourselves and others. Prepare your soul for a new year, eager to walk in God’s ways afresh and anew.

Ponder with the Lord and look forward to His goodness and grace in 2022.

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Drips from the Word: Muse about these Bible verses. Let these truths impact your living.

Matthew 20:32 – Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

1 Corinthians 11:28 –  Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.

Splashes from the Spigot: Drink from deep wells. Read these recommended books to fill your soul.

Father Mark E. Thibodeaux SJ. Reimagining the Ignatian Examen: Fresh Ways to Pray from Your Day. Chicago, IL. 2015.

Eugene H. Peterson and Rich Villodas. On Living Well: Brief Reflections on Wisdom for Walking in the Way of Jesus. Colorado Springs, CO 2021.

Sprinklings of Truth: Soak in meaningful songs. Check out these music videos to lift up your spirit.

Leeland. Way Maker. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJCV_2H9xD0

Jeremy Camp. Christ in Me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-1Wtrnt-rc