Ending the Year Well

On this week’s podcast, Dr. Dan Allender reflects on 2015 and the nature of ending a year. How do we mark the culmination of everything that the year held, both the good and the bad, when most of us are so exhausted by the time the holidays come around that we spend the last few days of the year in a kind of haze, already fretting about what’s to come in the new year?

“I think my tendency, like many, is to acknowledge that it was a good year, a hard year, a year that could have been better, could have been worse, and then—all right, let’s go. Let’s get into the new year. […] It is so easy to feel too tired, too frustrated, to look back over a year.”

Instead, this year, Dan spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on 2015—not just for a sense of closure, but to wonder about what it is that he needs to learn, engage, and ponder. The first step that Dan recommends is simple: collect the data. Check a calendar to see how your time was used, look at what you spent your money on, skim through old journal entries. Highlight what stands out to you, take notes, capture things that intrigue you.

“When you begin to collect data, it really requires you to look at patterns, which means you’re pondering. That’s the second task in stage one: ponder what you have. Look to see if there are things that surprise you, that you need to dig deeper into. […] That preparatory work, stage one—collecting, pondering, highlighting—brought a whole lot of revelation that I had not anticipated.”

Dan reflects on some of the patterns that he noticed in his own life: buying books he doesn’t read, amassing gear for fishing, camping, and motorcycling, spending significant amounts of time with his body not being well.

“Patterns begin to require of you a second stage that I will put in a simple phrase: you need to ask. You need to ask Jesus. You need to ask your spouse. You need to ask friends. You need to get data from people about the nature of what you’re perceiving or what they’re perceiving about your life. In asking, you’re really opening your heart to listen. […] The more you listen, the more the patterns, the clarity of some of the heartache, some of the glory, some of the good, will get clearer. […] There is already a sense of learning the moment you step into the patterns and evidence you don’t even know are there. But this is a much more intimate process of getting from others a window, a sight about your life.”

As you collect data and gather insight from others, you will begin to notice a few core messages of your year. For Dan, two core messages were that God has been so faithful to rescue him—in the disruptive work of writing the upcoming Healing the Wounded Heart, in the motorcycle trip with John Eldredge and the crew from Ransomed Heart—and that Dan has been deferring to other agendas that are not core to the work God has called him to. This end-of-year process is a chance to reflect on the core mission of our lives, and to acknowledge all the other things that, though good, pull us away from that mission.

“As you hear from others, from Jesus, there’s a kind of surrender. It’s a matter of saying yes—yes, this is true. […] In this final stage, as you begin to surrender, you need to bless. Bless the heartache, bless the glory. Bless the goodness. Bless what you accomplished, bless what you didn’t accomplish. […] Will you bless your limitations? And will you bless what is now available to you for the kind of care, not only of yourself and others, but ultimately of your relationship with Jesus? I found it quite remarkable that most of the work—after doing the initial collecting, pondering, highlighting, asking and listening—the real work was in surrendering and blessing.”

On next week’s podcast, Dan will discuss how—after doing the hard work of ending a year well—we can begin a new year with intentionality and goodness.