An Intentional Start to the Year
Updated: Jan 2
by Glenn and Holly Packiam
For well over a decade now, we have taken a few days either at the end of December or at the beginning of January to pray, reflect, and plan for the year ahead.
Resolutions are often about goals and productivity-- but habits built around goals don't usually last. Once a goal has been reached, the habits cease. (Think of running to train for a marathon-- once the marathon is over, the running usually stops.) But resolutions that are about rhythms and practices instead of goals and productivity can be ways of participating with the Holy Spirit in forming us into the image of Christ. Rhythms don't guarantee results or terminate in goals. Rhythms lead us into communion with Christ, and abiding in Jesus leads to fruitfulness. So, rather than chasing productivity or even goal-driven activity, this can be a way of entering in loving communion with Jesus and prayerfully participating with the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in us for God's glory and the good of the world.
Holly and I have settled on a pattern of sorts to guide our annual ( sometimes twice a year) retreats. I share it here in hopes that it may provoke a practice of your own. It doesn't even require leaving your home.
We begin with a sort of pause—a night out for dinner, long, unhurried conversation, catching up on life, an opening of our hearts, a plumbing of the depths of our emotions.
The next morning, we begin prayer and reflection. This is a time for us to find separate corners of the retreat center or hotel to look at the year gone by. We try to pay attention to the signs of grace along the way, stopping to recognize God’s work and to give him thanks for it. It is also often a moment of allowing the Holy Spirit to show us where we’ve fallen short, the particular moments or episodes and the trajectories that are bending the wrong way. Reflection. Gratitude for the gifts. Repentance for the failures. All offered to God.
Next comes listening. We ask the Lord to give us—individually—a word for the year ahead. What is it that He wants to do in us and through us in the coming season? A new year does not automatically mean a new season, but it is a good occasion to stop and ask the Lord. Sometimes, the answer is something like, “Go ahead. Keep doing what you’re doing.” Other times, it’s an adjustment of focus and attention.
The fourth phase for us is to contemplate our circles of relationships. Who are the people in our life? Obviously, we begin with each other and our children. But then we list the staff team, the friends, the congregants, and more. We begin to pray about which circles will require more attention and intentional investment. You can’t give equal weight to all these circles, and all relationships “breathe” and shift, so it’s good to journal about which people to draw a tighter and closer circle around and which ones to set in a ring that runs wider from the center.
Finally, it’s time to pull out the calendar. The often is what occupies us in the second morning. Priorities only work when they are turned into practices. For example, how are we going to invest in these relationships? Perhaps by a monthly dinner at our house. OK, so what night of the week would work? And so it goes. We create calendar events for everything from morning prayer to working out to dates with the kids to meals with friends. We’ve learned over the years not to be too ambitious with this. It’s better to start small with a few new rhythms and to leave plenty of margin for…well, the unexpected.
It’s a good idea to check-in on these rhythms about a month in, and then to reset them in the summer and the Fall. We usually do another retreat before the beginning of the school year in the Fall.
Here are some questions to guide each phase for you:
Ask each other…
1. How are you coming into this retreat?
2. What weight are you carrying, and why?
3. What joy are you discovering, and where?
Prayer and Reflection
Ask the Lord and yourself….
1. Where did I discover gifts of joy in the past year?
2. Where did I experience sorrow and grief?
3. Where or how did I give and receive love?
4. Where or how did I fail to give and receive love?
Ask the Lord…
1. What is the word or phrase that you want to speak over me in this next season?
2. What do you want to do in my life in this next season?
3. What do you want to do through me in this next season?
Ask the Lord and yourself…
1. Who are the people only I can love and invest in?
2. Who are the people I need to give particular attention to in this next season?
3. Who do you want me to take responsibility for and serve?
1. How often will I pray/meet with friends/workout/read/etc.?
2. What is the best rhythm or frequency for this?
3. What is the best day and time for this?
Our prayer for you...
May the Lord meet you as you slow down to pray.
May God grant you grace to see His Spirit at work in your life, and to respond with faithfulness and obedience. May you find His joy as you walk in step with Jesus this year.