As a teacher I create active learning experiences. While I like adventure I like even more the pearls of life that can be found as a part of an adventure.

Finding those pearls of life and learning from adventure, or any other part of life for that matter, doesn’t just happen.

I’ve often said, “As good Americans we move from one thing to the next without giving much thought to what we’ve been doing and why we’ve been doing it. So today, I want to encourage you to do what may be the most challenging part of your day. I want to lead you to reflection…on what you’ve been doing, why you’ve been doing it and what difference that can make for your future.”

Our culture prefers ‘forward’. Consider these marketing campaigns:
“The Way Forward”, Paul Ryan’s vision for 2014
“Forward”, Barack Obama, 2012 Presidential campaign
“The New Way Forward”, George “43” Bush
“Moving Forward”, 2012 Toyota Slogan

Now I’m not against forward but if that’s our all-the-time mode then we just might miss the most valuable pearls of life.

Life is the catalyst best for reflection.

My friend Kinley Winchester and his family recently returned to Nashville after serving Christ in Erbil, Iraq for 4.5 of the last 5 years. The whole family hasn’t been back to the states in 3 years. Most people ask questions about what’s next; jobs, life, school, autos, house, etc.

People’s questions show concern and engagement, which is very valuable to them as they transition back to Nashville. I’m confident this family will benefit from talking about where they’ve been, what they’ve been doing, what their life was like there, who they built relationships with, who / what they left behind.

Thoughtful reflection can help us work through life more wisely. Sometimes we can help people reflect by asking questions and them just listening.

Reflection helps us better understand where we are right now. Thoughtful reflection on the past can help us to better understand the present which can lead to future wise decision-making.

We must delve into our past, sometimes the most immediate past, to better understand the present. When we lose the connection to our own history we can stay in familiar and potentially not that helpful patterns. Some hope that paying attention to the past will help us to not repeat the mistakes of the past. I hope too.

Have you heard “my idea of insanity is doing things the same way and expecting different results.” A mentor of mine recited it in 1993 and it’s stuck with me.  It was attributed at that time to Michael Quinlan, then CEO of the McDonald Corporation.

Now, it’s attributed to a whole list of people. Just Google it.  Then read how far afield the comments go. No, it’s not talking about the psychological definition of insanity. Or a clinical definition either.

I’ve always taken this quote as a straight forward caution. The sentence checks my tendency to fantastical hope that life will be different, perhaps better, if I don’t do anything different and keep on doing what I’ve always done. It’s contrary to physics and common sense and the character of God.

But we humans can convince ourselves of all kinds of things.

Not only can we humans convince ourselves of all kinds of things, we can also deceive ourselves and avoid the present reality. People want to be told stuff that makes them feel good about themselves. We all do.

Good reflection demands an honest pursuit of truth and a willing determination to look reality in the face. Improvement requires some change in the pre-existing equation.

And let me tell you, thoughtful, honest reflection is hard and personal and sometimes I just want to avoid the pain of reality. Even honest effort can leave us off the mark. God help us, and love us, and guide us.

Elliott J. Gorn, a history professor at Purdue University, said “Consumer culture is mostly about denial, about forgetting the past, except insofar as the past is pleasant and, thus, marketable.”

Read that again and let it sink in. Ouch!

With such a high emphasis on marketing in our culture, putting our best foot forward to an extreme, we could be in danger of believing our own press.

Since many have a market mentality, and are their own brand, then we dare not bring out the unpleasant aspects of life. it could damage our brand. Perhaps we begin to believe our own marketing.

Rewriting history doesn’t help. Adjusting life into a series of talking points so that we are the central theme of the story of life doesn’t help either. Doesn’t history inform us that some of the decisions being made on the national stage will not be helpful for our culture in the long run?

Hindsight is not always 20/20 but it’s certainly clearer than not doing it at all.

Reflection helps us to better determine where we are for the purpose of improvement.

Please take note:

1. Reflection should be a normal part of life.

2. We can also reflect ourselves into obsession. That’s not improvement. That’s unhelpful and unhealthy. By God’s grace, work through it and move ahead. I keep trying to do so.

3. It’s also important to note that the good doesn’t normally lead us toward life changing reflection anymore than a wonderful, tasty and satisfying meal leads us toward improvement. A wonderful, tasty and satisfying meal should be enjoyed, celebrated and savored…with joy…and with an emphasis on repeatability. Celebration is not often well practiced either.

4. BENCHMARK practices reflection as a regular part of ministry. Adult mentors and 6th graders for a church group are led into reflection after team building. Soldiers are challenged to reflect on where they are as a part of BENCHMARK’s R3 to Resiliency in a military retreat. Reflection is directly connected to the selection of the benchmark as the symbol and name of the ministry I serve.

I’m capable of accomplishing tasks. I create lists of things to be done and work toward getting them done. The list is always longer than reality can tolerate. Task lists can squeeze out reflection. If you’re like me in this way, maybe you just need to schedule reflection. I do.

So turn off the damaging 24 hours news cycle. Step away from too much reality television. Check less on your Facebook friends and check into where you are right now.

At this point, why don’t you join me scheduling 10 minutes a day for the next 5 days to carefully reflect on where you are right now, how you got where you are and where your current path may take you in the future.

You may discover a pearl.