A moment of reflection at the end of the day is a necessary part of your spiritual growth.
Previously, I wrote about the first thing I do every morning: looking at the day ahead and asking God for the grace to do his will throughout the day. I’m convinced that’s critically important to living Christianity well, but it’s only one side of the coin.
The other side of the coin—what the busy Christian does at the end of the day—is extremely beneficial to spiritual growth, but is also extremely tempting to avoid. We know what we should do, but we just don’t want to.
Imagine practicing a sport or improving at an instrument. Which practice sessions did you dread most? While long runs and burpees are physically demanding, they aren’t the worst kinds of practice.
For most of us, the hardest practices to sit through are watching the “game tape”: studying the recording of a game or recital to call out what went well and what should’ve been done better. It’s difficult to sit still and face past struggles that we are powerless to correct. We would rather rush ahead, try harder next time, and “do” something—even burpees—than reflect on the past.
It’s basically the same in the professional world. Recently, my software development team retooled all of our processes for planning and building our application. We eagerly focused on planning ahead of a development cycle and execution during the cycle, but dragged our feet putting in place the last step; sitting down after each cycle to review what went well and what we needed to improve.
We convince ourselves that we avoid looking back for noble reasons. We don’t want to “dwell in the past” and discourage ourselves by regretting things we can’t change. We don’t want to be judgmental and label actions as good or bad. Instead, we want to look to the future and try harder next time.
When I’m honest, I find the real reason I don’t like watching my game tape is that it shatters my carefully constructed internal narrative that I have life figured out. Reflecting back reveals that I make countless mistakes no matter how hard I try. I’m forgetful, habitual, complacent, selfish, and straight-up self-destructive.
I pretend that I have what it takes to live up to my own expectations. Looking carefully at what I actually do, what I actually say, and what I actually feel in my heart obliterates this fantasy like the sun erasing shadows when the curtains are pulled back. As St. Paul says, “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” (Rom 7:15), and it kills me that I can’t figure this out on my own.
But that is exactly where God wants me.
We will not accept God’s mercy if we’ve fooled ourselves into believing we’re doing fine.
We won’t be sorry for our sins if we’re convinced they aren’t that bad. We won’t put our hope in God as long as we trust ourselves to have what it takes.
If the first thing we do each day is look ahead and ask God for our daily bread, then the last thing we should do is look back, thanking God for the good things, sharing our contrition for the bad things, and learning from ourselves.
Soon, we’ll see what triggers and temptations get us off course. We’ll see how hard habits are to break. We’ll feel there’s no point in trying; the same things catch us over and over. But, if we stick with it and let God’s grace work, we’ll see him change us. No, we can’t save ourselves—that’s the point—but faithfully living each day preparing, doing, and reflecting will allow him to save us.
Tonight, will you take five minutes and ask the Holy Spirit to walk through the day with you? Will you thank him for the blessings and admit your failings? Will you resolve to put what you learned, to use tomorrow?
It’s time to watch your game tape.