Closing Chapters – Making memories (part 2 of 4)

Normal 0 false false false EN-ZA X-NONE X-NONE

Just like a good story, your life has a beginning, and an ending with the middle chapters lived out in different seasons in settings. Each of these life chapters has a unique little storyline that shapes your character and destiny. In the previous post Closing Chapters – Wrapping Up 2020 I said that, especially after a rough season
one needs to conclude a life chapter, to pin it down so that the new chapter begins with a clean slate, not being held back by unresolved issues.

(I have spoken the need for Closing Chapters at Shofar Durbanville’s morning service on 29 November 2020. A recording can be found below; message starts at 44 minutes) 

We close a life chapter effectively by making memories and finding meaning in these memories. We begin our review of the year by looking at those events or trends that had a memorable impact on my life, shaping my identity, relationships or purpose. As we begin our review, we take not of each event’s effects on our emotions or relational dynamics, , self-view or confidence.

Review the 2020 (the highlights and lowlights)

To review of a longer season such as a year or few years at a particular company season may be difficult to initiate.  Where does one begin?  I find it helpful to plot a simple histogram with three or four layers to get my thoughts started.

An example histogram to get your reflection for 2020 started might look like this: three lines showing the highs and lows of your relational life, work life and spiritual life over the 12 months of the year. 

  • Line 1: As you reflect over the year’s events, indicate your general sense relational health (you might want to draw lines for each significant relationship).
  • Line 2: Do the same for your work life.
  • Line 3: Do the same for your spiritual life.
  • You may want to consider lines to indicate your confidence or anxiety levels, your finances, studies, sports or church life – whatever touched you deeply in the year.
  • Now mark a few key events in your life, trigger events or turning points, on this graph.

Some people find these graphs less helpful for reflection. Therefore I share three other ways in which I do reflection on a season, to get to those events and trends that will add to my life story going forward.

  • For each of the key relationships in your life, recall the highlights and lowlights in the year. Which of these events had a lasting impact on me/us, and how?
  • List the big external events (such as the pandemic, drought and civil unrest) or personal crisis (sickness, accident, burglary or separation) and recall how it impacted me.  What do I carry with me since then?
  • Compare every aspect of my life how I entered the year, and how I exit the year. Eg, I entered 2020 with R150’000 of debt and exit with R75’000 debt.  At the beginning of 2020  we were a family of 3 but at the end of 2020 we are a family of 4.  Consider making these comparisons on your personal life, work life, social life, spiritual life, finances etc. How did these changes occur, and how do these impact me?

From these reflections, reduce your Highs and Lows to those you deem most influential on your life in this past year. These are the memories that you will reflect on to find meaning in the year, affirming your identity and refining the purpose that sets your course in the years to come.

Closing chapters start with making memories – your highs and lows of 2020.

Recognize the good (preservation and growth)

Memories by themselves are good, but apart from our life in God, these events do not give meaning to our lives. Next we ground our memories of 2020 in the providence and presence of God.

In reviewing the good things that happened to me in 2020, it is helpful to start with the question: “What bad things did NOT happen to me this year?” In a year filled with devastation and disappointments, it is necessary to recognize and rejoice in God’s protection and preservation.  Record these in jour journal with a heading similar to Psalm 124: “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side…”

Then look at your life, comparing your situation at the beginning and the ending of your year.  Ask yourself (and those close to you): What good things did happen to me?” Don’t rush this section.  Think of the growth in your life in all its totality: physically, materially (possessions), emotionally, relationally, spiritually.  Think of your work and influence.  I used two headings for my reflection, borrowing from 1 Samuel 7:12 “Thus far the Lord has helped us…” and from Psalm 103 “Bless the Lord oh my soul, and forget not all his benefits…” listing according to those aspects form David’s praise.

Especially in a trying year such as this, it is crucial to see and celebrate God’s faithfulness and generous grace, displaying his devotion towards us.  These contemplations ground us in the reality of his abiding presence and steadfast love – the sure footing for our next chapter.

Take these highlights into your prayer time and give thanks to the Lord for his generosity and faithfulness. Indeed, your life is grounded in the presence and providence of God – a sure footing for 2021.

In my next post we will deal with the lowlights, the disappointments and pains of 2020, to live free from regrets and vengeance in the years to come.

Closing Chapters: Wrapping up 2020 (part 1 of 4)

2020 was a surprisingly rough year.  It still is.  How do you muster hope and confidence for a new year after one so tumultuous as this?

From discovering a new Coronavirus strain far away in Wuhan City, China, 12 months ago a global pandemic culminated in the simultaneous lockdown of more than 200 countries just six months later. The lockdowns confined people to their homes, shutting down schools, businesses and all social gatherings.  Governments banned all travel, calling for a state of disaster, restricting countries under martial law.  And now a second wave is in full swing.

The global pandemic pressure exposed the fault lines in vulnerable economies, politics, and social fibres worldwide.  Newsfeeds flooded with reports of large-scale corruption, election rigging, racial tension and wild conspiracy theories.    These compounding disruptions also highlighted the vulnerabilities in societies’ emotional-spiritual wellness, resulting in heightened anxieties, widespread domestic violence and unhealthy coping mechanisms.  No-one escaped the sting of this pandemic.

At several moments during this year, I hoped for someone to call an end to the year, to reset the calendar and start afresh.  I waited for some referee to recognize our fatigue, to throw in the towel or count us out.  At long last, the year is over, but now the entrance into 2021 looks very similar to the exit of 2020.  The difference is: (a) now we know what to expect, and (b) 2020 has had a significant physical, emotional and spiritual impact on each of us.  For that reason, many of us face the new year with a sense of dread.  

Why bother with the past ?

There is a need to properly wrap up the old year and bring meaning to a particular season before starting afresh.  Failure to conclude a life chapter can cause one to get stuck in a destructive cycle.  Trying to move on with unresolved disappointments, hurts, trauma or even blind spots and character flaws will likely cause one to live reactively to past events.  The past will repeat itself like a bad nightmare. There has to be some resolve, some closure before your story can continue in a new chapter.

Biblical books at the end of seasons

It is noteworthy to consider that all the history books in the Bible – from Genesis to Ester in the OT and the Gospels to Acts in the NT – were recorded at critical moments in God’s people’s history.  These records are not merely cold recordings of history.  Each history book is a prophetic reinterpretation of the events God’s people went through, written to help make sense of God’s redemptive purposes through these periods.  It aims to affirm the first readers’ identity and purpose as God’s covenant people.  As such, each of these books is a means to “close a chapter” in a particular people’s history, giving God’s people resolve to move on, helping them understand why they had to endure this.  

What is a life chapter?

Consider every memorable story, and you will conclude that hard times shaped the character and beautify his/her account. Samuel anointed David to be king, but many difficult chapters fill the years before becoming Israel’s beloved king. Yet his story is memorable because these middle chapters tell of familial rejection, battle with a giant, fleeing a vengeful monarch, harsh years in exile, uniting a divided Israel, and later attempted patricide and exile again, to name a few highlights.  God’s journey with him through valleys of shadows of death makes his story beautiful and inspirational.

God promised Joseph prominence and power, and the fulfilment thereof was beyond his wildest imagination.  His story brings encouragement 3800 years later because God’s promise prevailed despite familial betrayal, enslavement, wrongful imprisonment, and neglect of a companion. In particular, his story endures because he could look his brothers loving in the eyes and declare “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) That is why and how you close a life chapter: make sense of a season to affirm your identity and purpose in the light of God’s presence and providence.

A life chapter brings a conclusion to a season characterized in some unique way.  Some chapters close naturally, like when you progress from primary school to high school or graduate from college or end an internship.  Other life chapters might require help to resolve, due to an unfair dismissal from work, an abrupt end to a long relationship, or a sudden relocating with the family.  Especially after a season of hardship, we struggle to move on because these tend to impact us emotionally and spiritually – leaving lasting scars on our identity (affecting our self-view), relationships and confidence (impacting our purpose and potential).  Such seasons have the power to hold us back or alter the course of our lives – for the good or the bad.  As such, reflection and resolve is paramount. Closing life chapters means making memories and finding meaning in it. Our challenge is to do a personal, prophetic reinterpretation of our experience to discern God’s presence and work in, through and for us.  In particular, it affirms our identity, reforms our relationships and refines our purpose in life. 

How do we properly close life chapters?

We say that “experience makes us wiser.”  But observation tells us that this is not true.  Experience often leaves us poorer, tired, hurt, or lonely. If we’re lucky, experience leaves us happy, enriched or loved.  We tend to repeat past mistakes, suffering the same painful results – unless we intentionally reflect and learn from our experience.  A more accurate statement reads, “evaluated experience makes us wiser.” 

In her book Rooted in Love Margaret Blackie sketches her life as a plant rooted in rich soil. The plant symbolizes her life, flourishing. The roots seek security and nourishment in the fertile soil. The ground, enriched by the processed plant matter, represents reflected past experiences.  Together, this image powerfully portrays how our lives flourish when anchored and nourished by our awareness of God’s presence and purpose with our everyday lives.  Therefore, closing a life chapter aims to root us securely in the rich soil of the previous season, ready to bloom in the next season.

We close the chapter on 2020 by making a memory and find its meaning in the light of our life’s trajectory as a whole.  First, we look back to review the highs and lows of the year.  Second, we look up to recognize and give thanks for God’s goodness in the past season.  Third, we reflect on the losses, hurts and disappointments by look inward; we own our share in the pain and release those who caused us harm.  Lastly, we look forward as we revision the next leg our of our journey with hope.  We will work through each of these points in subsequent blog posts.

So what do you expect to take with you out of 2020? You might be surprised at the insights and hopeful energy gained from such a reflection.

The marks by which we are known

The growth rings of a tree trunk intrigue me. These contours compile the life story of the tree in the lines left by nature’s faithful seasons of wet and dry.  Years of plenty leave thick lines, years of lack leave thin lines. Yet more than mere rainfall history is recorded in these contours: forest competition leave elliptical lines of asymmetrical growth, while the trauma of forest fires, animal damage, pests or sickness leave permanent stains or scars in the tree trunks.  These lines, scars, stains and blotches portray the life of the tree: it is the record of events the tree witnessed, what it encountered and what it survived.  Just like our fingerprints these contours distinguish one tree from another – what a tree lives through lends it its distinguishing marks; its experience lends it its beauty and character.  As these pictures show[i], each tree is known and valued by its marks.

The tales trees trunks tell. [image credits below]
But note that the lines and marks in a tree are the trees response to its environment – not the environment itself.  We don’t see the rains, droughts, fires, bugs or animals.  The contours only record the tree’s growth because of a wet season, and its hardening because of a dry season.  We only see the elliptical contours because of the tree’s self-adjusting growth for a few years in its fight for better sunlight. We only see the darkening as it healed from the heat and flames, the recovery scars left from animal damage and the discolouration caused by other environmental conditions.  In essence, the trunk of the tree is a witness to how the tree coped with its experience, how well it adjusted to survive in its environment and how it was strengthened through it.  Indeed, these contours are aptly called the “growth rings of a tree”.

If your character could be dissected as a tree trunk, it might reveal similarly distinguishing “growth rings” – the marks that show how each season has impacted you.


As I reflect on the past year I am struck by how deeply it influenced me – both for the good and the bad.  A few family traumas of people within our church community has left a heightened appreciation for my family and my health, with a deliberate response to cherish the precious time with those I love and make the best use of my health and fitness.  Frequent reports of leadership failure have heightened my awareness of my own fallibility and the traumatic impact it has on many; this sparked renewed study and intentional growth in Christian leadership practice as well as intentional accountability as I see the need to allow others to speak into my life.  The development and facilitation of a marriage intimacy course has made a lasting impact in my attention to and intention for growth in marital intimacy.  A demanding season has highlighted the dangers of isolation resulting in purposeful pursuit of healthy friendships for me and my family.  But the business has also caused me to reevaluate my life, reconsider my efforts and remind myself where I should be heading, so I can readjust my course now.

Sadly I am also aware of some less noble responses to events in the past year: I recognise a mounting degree of cynicism due to frequent disappointment by certain people, coupled by latent anger and even bitterness in my heart.  I notice a resistance to spontaneous generosity because of perceived entitlement and misspending of some with whom I have supported.  I note the signs of compassion fatigue because of seasons of overextending myself.  And sadly I am aware that I laugh and play less because of the impact of the serious things that I deal with. These responses are not good for my soul, my family and my relationships.

Thus the events of the past season has touched me personally and impacted my character.  I have grown grateful and humble, more relational and accountable, vulnerable and intimate, and more purposeful.  Yet I have to acknowledge that I have grown more cynical, less innocent and less generous, less compassionate and less joyful.  My growth through the last season has been both good and bad; in some ways I have grown to resemble Christ my Lord better and in some ways I have grown to represent him less.

Although the memories of our experiences remain with us, it is our own responses to those experiences that ultimately impact us and those around us greatly, because how we respond shapes us for the long run.  Our responses to life’s significant moments and seasons lay the contours that make up our character – and our character shapes both our consciousness (how we view life) and our course (where we end up in life).

That is why we need to “guard our heart above all things, for from it flows the issues of life.”[ii]  We cannot control or undo what life’s seasons throw at us, but we can and should control our response to those moments.

The Bible teaches that one is “blessed” (or better off) when in spite of injustice one remains kind and merciful; when in the midst of cruelty and betrayal one remains pure in heart; when in the midst of conflict one pursues reconciliation and peace; when in the midst of hardship one remains faithful and true to God.[iii] In fact, the Bible shows that regardless of what life throws at us, a godly response always leaves one blessed – in this life and the life to come.[iv]  And that although everything seems hopeless, there is a very real reason to be optimistic, because God can and will bring beauty out of every situation.[v]  Although there are things that challenge us in every season of life, God’s grace in that season is enough to carry us through.[vi]

It’s a new year.  Another year is over and it left its marks on your life.  Was it a year of plenty or of want?  A season of vigorous growth or a tough season of hardening?  A festive time or fiery trial that left its stains?  Regardless of what the year brought you, its impact on your life will prove significant in the shaping of your heart.

How will you allow your experiences to impact your character for good or bad?  Consider it carefully, because your response to this season will determine your consciousness in the next season and ultimately your course in life.


[i] Images from online article in Mizzou Magazine

[ii] Proverbs 4:23

[iii] Matthew 5:7-9; James 1:12

[iv] Romans 8:28

[v] Jeremiah 29:11; Revelations 20:5

[vi] 2 Corinthians 12:9

A Time to Celebrate

Another year is over.  Another year in which we have experienced the goodness and faithfulness of God.  We have been preserved, blessed and even enriched in so many ways.  This is indeed reason to stop, to gather everyone and celebrate.  It’s a time to set up a memorial stone and exclaim with Samuel “Thus far the Lord has helped us!” (1 Samuel 7:12).

A time for recreation.
A time for recreation.

Celebration is a time of rejoicing a time to look at the good and cherish it.  It is a time where we celebrate and exult.  A time of laughter, music and dancing, a time for relaxing as we deliberately free ourselves of cares and work.  It is a time for joyful recreation and playful interaction.  It is a time away from the ordinary and mundane routine of working and earning so that we can have a time of resting with the intent of restoring and recharging. It is a time to “wait on the Lord [to] renew your strength” (Isaiah 40:31).

A time to reflect and consider how you have grown or waned.
A time to reflect and consider how you have grown or waned.

Celebration is a time of reflection – a time to look in the mirror and with honesty consider the person you have become.  It’s a time to take stock of your life as you consider how you have grown or how you have waned.  In moments like these we review the stewardship of what have been entrusted to us (opportunities, relationships, time and resources) in the light of eternal perspective. This gives opportunity to reprioritize your time and resources in respect to God the Judge of all (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

A time to remember.
A time to remember.

Celebration is a time to remember where you have come from, where you have been and where you are heading.  It’s a time to look back cherish your legacy, and look ahead to embrace your destiny anew.  It’s a time where you look back on the road of life with thankfulness and a time to remember the lessons you have learned.  It’s a time to relive the faithfulness of God in being Emanuel, God with us.  This leads to a time of and realigning the path of your life as you follow the Lord your the Shepherd (Psalm 23:1-4).

A time to reconnect.
A time to reconnect.

Celebration is a time for relating – a time to look around you and enjoy the fact that you are not alone in this journey of life.  It’s a time where your identity is not found in your work, your failure or your success, but in your belonging.  You are accepted for being you, celebrated as a gift from God.  This leads to a time of reconnecting hearts around the table of God our Father (Ephesians 3:14-17).

A time for recognition.
A time for recognition.

Celebration is a time for recognition where we look at the people around us with gratitude and humble regard for their contributions and efforts.  A time we “give honor to whom it is due” (Romans 12:7).  It is a time where we reaffirm the value and relationships of those among which the Lord has placed us.

A time for reverence.
A time for reverence.

Celebration is a time for reverence – a time to look up and render yourself in worship to God as the source of all goodness and necessary grace.  It’s also a time of yielding yourself in serving the God who created you for his pleasure.  A time where you resign yourself to the purpose, position and path that God has assigned for you; “this is your reasonable service to God” (Romans 12:1-2).

Invite family, friends and neighbors to celebrate with you!
Invite family, friends and neighbors to celebrate with you!

So do as our Biblical example encourage us – regardless of our circumstances or emotions – lets’s celebrate!  Invite your family, friends and neighbors, saying “Rejoice with me!”  (Luke 15:6,9)  Gather, feast with music and food and dancing and the exchanging of gifts as we celebrate and display the goodness and faithfulness of God our Savior. So let us rejoice and be glad – this is  the season of celebration! (Refer Psalm 118:24; Revelations 19:7; 1 Chronicles 16:1-3; Esther 9:16-19; Nehemiah 8:9-12).