In my very first year of med school, one of our first assignments was to write an academic essay on reflective essays. I don’t know who first thought this was a good idea, but I recall it as a pretty awful time. However, since then, I have become aware of the importance of reflection as a discipline of spiritual growth, or any sort of growth, and ironically it has caused me to reflect a fair bit on reflection itself. In a recent post in the series on being in a ‘reading rut’, I wrote a post focussed on meditating, which is the active reflection on God’s Word. In this post, I am looking at reflection in a broader sense; reflecting on situations, relationships, ideas and concepts; the process of thinking deeply and mentally working things out, contemplating things of importance. In this sense, reflection is not something that comes particularly naturally to me; my brain doesn’t float to thinking through important and meaningful topics, unless they seem to be having a prominent emotional impact on me and I can’t help but dwell on them. My train of thought seems to have many stations it stops at, and changes route frequently. And in addition, I am often unaware of the reflective process that has taken place when I reach conclusions about things.
A key aspect of the reflective essays that I have been subject to over the past four years of university is that reflecting has a purpose; an end goal. Medically, reflections help answer the question, “’how does this change my practice as a health professional?” And this is really the only part of the essay writing process that has ever resonated with me. I’ve noticed as I’ve written posts for the blog that I have only wanted to write about things that I have reached firm convictions or conclusions about. Anything that I am still in the process of reflecting on is unfinished work, whether it be in the form of blog posts or as thoughts in my head about everyday situations and struggles. I feel like I view my reflections as lacking worth until it is seen that they have led to a place of solid ground, that they have proven themselves as fruitful thoughts. And so I wouldn’t share what I had been thinking until I worked out exactly what I thought, and was sure in myself for it to be right.
I think this may be because there is a certain vulnerability in sharing during the process of reflection. In sharing your thoughts, you can be inadvertently inviting people to share their own thoughts and opinions in response, which you may perceive to be much better thought-out than your own, or contradictory to your own. But, as you may have experienced, there are times when someone telling you the right answer can seem like exactly what you don’t need in the process of working things out. As much as obtaining an answer may be the end goal of our reflection, during the midst of it, what we often feel we need more is validation and reassurance, or encouragement that our thinking is worthwhile and leading in the right direction. But in providing an opportunity for that to occur, there is a risk that the response you will get will not be these things; someone might disagree or throw you off course. This has particular significance for the reflection process, which inherently involves a lot of uncertainty. You are sometimes not even sure what you think yet; what if you later change your mind in what you said? What if you come to a point in a few weeks time to see that you in fact were wrong, or you were being sinful in the way you thought due to being judgmental or assigning intentions to others actions that were not actually known? Or what if your reflections were just blatantly not in line with God after all?
And at other times, our hesitancy to share our reflections is pride. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find it hard to not know things; it shows we are weak and dependent on others. It’s humbling to admit that we’re far from having all the pieces of the puzzle in place.
And so, for all these reasons, I think it is really important to share what we are reflecting on with one another, not necessarily to allow others to help us and tell us the “answers” (although I am sure this can be helpful and has a place), but to be vulnerable with one another, to show that in humility, we don’t know all the answers but are in a process of growing, and by God’s grace, are trusting in Him to guide us in working it out. The New Testament is full of churches grappling with and figuring out what it practically looks like to live as one who has new life in Christ in a complex, broken world. We must do the same as a unified community. As people who are committed to carrying each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), we must help each other “work out our faith in fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). We are simply too sinful and too limited to comprehend the depths of God’s love and will in isolation (Eph. 3:18).
And of course, not all our reflections are struggles – they can truly be on anything, and in that regard I think it can also be really encouraging to hear and see the process of others’ reflection and where it leads. To see someone in a place of uncertainty – whether it be regarding how to view or approach a situation, not knowing what a certain characteristic of God really means, or wanting to grow in joyfulness but just knowing what that looks like or how to make it happen – and to then see them come to a place of contentment and peace in that, whether through God providing certainty, revelation, joy, or trust despite a continued lack of understanding – this brings such joy and encouragement! But that encouragement isn’t as rich if we view their journey solely retrospectively, rather than having journeyed with them. Giving people insights into our reflections and how they have lead to growth into Christ-likeness is a unique way in which God can build up others, and increase our awareness of the incredible work of the Holy Spirit in each other’s lives.
So I hope whether on this blog, or as I chat to you over a cup of tea, I can begin to share my reflections with you, and you with me. And although it isn’t something that comes naturally to me, together we can be encouraged by the process of transformation by the gospel of Christ, and God’s power being made perfect in our weakness.