In our family my husband is the great story teller, be it a true story or something he made up for the kids. He is the one who can retell an event without missing an important detail, who can hold the punch line in perfect tension, and who will take you along from start to finish without losing you in flashbacks or fast-forwards.
I am the one who tells a story as if a novel were cut into a million pieces and I had randomly chosen a few, shuffled them into any order, and retold the fragments with long pauses and stares. Oral history is just not my forte.
Part of the problem may be my impatience. I get bogged down with details and transitions and segues, wanting to get right to the point when I’m recounting something aloud. I tend to tell the highs and lows and leave out too many important connecting points, and anyone listening is left as fragmented as my story. I think I’m just realizing this about myself — this trouble with transitions.
As a listener, I’ve been known to roll my hands in the air and bob my head in an attempt to move the story to its conclusion. I am not proud of this habit, and especially not proud of the fact that I really only do this hand-rolling-get-on-with-it motion to my husband. It's so rude and I am a terrible person and I really should just sit on my hands, listen, and learn. I should be polite enough to pay attention to all the details that are important, even if they’re not important to me.
In the same way, I tend to skim details as I’m reading. It’s not as rude because the author can’t see me, but let’s talk about scripture for a minute — about how I roll through lists and repetition and why does Moses have to say the same thing again and again and didn’t he already tell about all the ways they failed in the desert? I’m about to enter the Promised Land with Israel again, but first we have to stop and recount the mistakes, the reasons why so many of them didn’t make it, the reason Moses himself won’t make it. Deuteronomy is basically one big Review of the Desert Wanderings, before the test of Jericho that begins the book of Joshua.
What this all boils down to is my distaste for review. I want things to roll forward, make progress and move the needle. Yet at the same time I seem to be constantly doing some kind of internal-review that leaves me prone to regret and second guessing. I am this particular kind of contradiction: we will do whatever the Lord says to you, Moses; but don’t take too long or we’ll be dancing before the golden calf.
The students I tutor once a week are currently (hopefully) reviewing the material of our last semester in preparation for their final assessments.
Our accountant just finished reviewing our taxes with us.
My youngest son is reviewing all his map drawings of the year to get ready for his final, big drawing of the whole earth.
All these reviews are fine and good and I welcome them, but in my own life I’m noticing that a true review is harder to make. It’s as though the days behind are circulating a great gray fog, pushing the days ahead to be more frantic, more prepared, to stay ahead of the misty accumulation. I don’t know what to do with all the pieces of my life when I look back with the intent to review and not just reminisce.
A review is hard because it will take time and work and a detachment from myself.
I’ve often wished that someone — that God — would just tell me in plain language what the heck I need to fix or stop or add or continue doing. I know; it’s all there in the Scriptures. But you know what I mean, right? I may be missing something obvious, some habit or way of thinking or doing that is hindering my walk.
“The unexamined life is not worth living,” according to Socrates. That may be extreme in this context, but certainly my lack of review makes everyday living a little haphazard. I want to put the skids on fast-forward living and on the kind of backward-looking that only remembers but doesn’t truly re-view. Looking back should make me a better listener, one who doesn’t roll her hands and simply push the story forward. Review should produce thankfulness, recognition, awareness, attention to detail, and lessons for the days to come.
Like the Israelites, downloading a review of all God had done in the midst of their failures and attempts at godliness, a good review can prepare us to be the people we want to be. I would hope that a review might also reveal that the people we have been being, the ones coming out of the fog, are similar to the ones we want to be; that these many years of alternating between wandering and following have built some sort of forward-motion in us; in me.
The first step will be to set aside the time. Second: prayerfully consider the last month or so of your life. What brought peace? What took it? Where have you over-reacted to situations, and what events led up to that? What projects or goals have been on your list for too long, and what tools do you need to actually accomplish them? The Accidental Creative gives great guidelines for making weekly, monthly, and quarterly reviews, and Ephesians 4 is a good reminder and plan for change.
May your margins be wide enough for this sort of review, friends. And if you are feeling a little defeated, may you remember that the Good Shepherd leaves the 99 and rejoices to bring the wanderer back. We can begin, again, in that joy.