Reflective practice can be transformative.
“we see the world not as it is, but as we are.”
Each of us has a perspective, a point of view, an opinion or a story to tell about what has happened in our lives, what is happening now, and what we believe will happen.
Our story – as we see it, is the story we tell ourselves – with all of our subjective worries, fears and exaggerations, the things we have missed in our retelling so don’t realise where our gaps are. The story that we live is often incomplete, filled with inconsistency and unresolved challenges and issues.
Exploring our story – considering our attitudes, feelings, circumstances, what was (and is) beyond our control and what was (and is) within our power to influence. What we chose to do and chose not to do – and how we feel about those choices – can be both joyous and painful. It is so important for our growth as humans. Ultimately, submitting our story to the great author – God himself. What has he already written about us that we are yet to perceive?
We have in scripture a blindingly (if you excuse the pun) obvious picture of what transformative reflection might look like. So let’s consider the following through the lens of Paul’s journey . . .
Reflect on your story so far. Reflecting on your story is simply taking time to think about it. Perhaps very simply to consider the “What”. What has happened?
When Paul was blinded by Jesus on the road to Damascus he was plunged in to darkness, became reliant on others to lead him and while in this state had time to reflect on the story he had been living.
“so they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.”
Think about that for a moment. Here was this “pharisee of the pharisees” leading the charge against this new upstart cult called Christianity, determined to stamp it out, filled with zealous indignation – convinced of the purity and rightness of his cause. Only to be literally blinded by the reality of getting it so wrong. This man who commanded others, took charge and steered the course – suddenly, totally dependent. Incapable of doing anything for himself.
Being led by the hand.
Sometimes we might struggle to face the reality of needing help from others, we can “manage”; we’ve got this “sorted”. What happens to us when our world is shaken and we realise we cannot make a way on our own?
A key component of reflective practice is humility. “I have so much to learn”, “please, you know more about this than I do – can I journey with you for a while and see what I might discover?”
For three days he was blind.
I’ve a ministry friend who is blind. He engages with the world in a different way to me. He has never seen my face, does not know what I look like – yet he knows me, knows what I am passionate about in ministry – asks good questions and reflects and thinks about the world from a perspective I cannot grasp. For the short time, Paul had to engage with everything in a different way – not just the mind blowing thought that Jesus was alive and was who he claimed to be – but everything.
did not eat or drink anything.
We aren’t told if this was Paul’s choice or whether he couldn’t. My hunch is that he was so blown away that he took that time to fast. In the Old Testament, a fast often accompanied or came after an intense spiritual experience. Another reason for fasting was to repent. The sort of thing you might do if you were waiting for the deliverance of a Messiah – only to realise the Kingdom of God is breaking in, the age to come is NOW and Jesus is that long awaited Messiah.
At times your practice of reflection might lead to life shaping discoveries!
Reframe your story of now. Reframing happens when you consider your story might not be a true picture of what has taken place – whether that is the events at youth group last week or something that happened a decade ago. Reframing asks some what if questions : What if I’m being too hard on myself? What if I’ve imagined the way others perceived me in that situation? What if I’m being too generous to myself? What if? What IF?
The apostle Paul reframes his story (or has his story reframed for him!). This righteous pharisee realises something about himself, as he now sees himself before God.
He writes about this in his letter to Timothy with such humility and perception,
“And the grace of the Lord overflowed to me, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. This is a trustworthy saying worthy of full acceptance : Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst. But for this very reason I was shown mercy, so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His perfect patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”
1 Timothy 1:14-16
Reflective practice needs to be filled with grace. If we believe that God is present, by His Spirit – and that He is active in our lives, then reflection need not hold fear for us – we can move from a place of fear to the freedom Paul found in discovering who He was in the light of who Jesus is.
Have you reframed your story in the light of God’s goodness and grace to you? Have you received His forgiveness for the past? Are you living with the weight of things you have said or done still holding you – or have you been released to live in a new day, with a new “now” with Jesus at the centre?
Reform your story of what is yet to come. This is about hope. Beyond the here and now, beyond what has gone before – looking to a future that while yet to happen, we can enter – moment by moment – with confidence. Paul calls us to join Him on this quest. These three passages help me consider this in my own story,
“Though I am free of obligation to anyone, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. to the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), to win those under the law. To those without the law (thought I am not outside the law of God but am under the law of Christ), to win those without the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some.”
1 Corinthians 9:19-21
This passage is often used in the context of relational evangelism – we meet people where they are at. Yet, this passage also shows us the journey Paul has been on. Look at what has happened to him.
From Pharisee – from badge of honour among his peers, from that recognition and value in the community he grew up in – to, well – whatever works for spreading the gospel. Paul is “clothed in Christ” (Galatians 3:27) – no other attire is needed now. The freedom and security this brings!
Can we jettison “what will others think?” as we make changes? Can we find ourselves by “finding ourselves” in Christ – and that being enough for us? What are the trappings of our ministry or life or habits or public profiles on social media that need to re-examined in the light of the character that Christ is forming in us?
“follow me as I follow Christ.”
1 Corinthians 11:1
What Paul is talking about with “who he becomes” is no more than what Jesus did. In fact Jesus became fully human, taking on our form – God incarnate – “giving up” all that he had every right to in Heaven. Paul writes about that too in Philippians Chapter 2 . . . and in his life and ministry Paul seeks to follow – literally – to “copy Christ”. The word used is the root word for the word “mimic”
As we reflect on who we are becoming – who is it we look to, follow, aspire to be like, are mentored by – how do they reflect Christ? Paul here isn’t just talking about what He is doing – but what we should do. Have you ever reflected on who is following you?
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I set aside childish ways. Now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part : then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
1 Corinthians 13:11-12
There remains an unclear picture – despite his transformative encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus – Paul recognises the limits of what can be known in this life. He knows that “one day” all will become clear.
Reflective practice acknowledges that tension – we discover new things, we find out our story – our lives need “re-framing” with this new understanding – yet we know this journey repeats. We do not arrive – yet continue to grow, discover, become more fully the people that God has called us to be through Jesus.
The story of my future is reformed with hope. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future – is a cliche, but is also true.
Why not ::
Reflect on your past. What has happened, where have you come from to get to this place?
Reframe your now. What have you discovered that might lead to change? What can you change? What do you need to accept? Where can you see the finger-print of God in your life? Can you embrace his forgiveness, grace and love?
Reform your future. The future isn’t set – you can step in to what God has for you. If your now can be reframed as you let go of the past, how does that change your future? How different does your tomorrow look if what has been does not have to be what will be? Yes, we see through a glass dimly – but also, most wonderfully, this :
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. and we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into His image with intensifying glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
1 Corinthians 3:17-18
CYM Trustee & Alumni (Masters in Reflective Practice and Applied Theology)
Youth and Children’s Ministry Consultant
Above: Ali Campbell, CYM Trustee and Alumni