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Connecting the Dots

28 May Spiritual Formation | Comments Off on Connecting the Dots
Connecting the Dots
 

The Life Map

A few months ago I participated in a retreat designed to provide rest and relaxation in conjunction with spiritual formation.  Our focus for the weekend was to examine where we have seen God (and where we had sometimes missed seeing Him) at work in our lives.

Part of the retreat was a simple exercise called life mapping that helped us get started.  It is exactly what it sounds like.  We mapped out our lives from the beginning to the present.  (Well, we mapped out as much as we could in one sitting.)

We started with a stack of tiny yellow post-it notes, and like free-writing a stream of consciousness, we wrote down whatever memory, experience, place, name, etc. that came to mind. It didn’t matter whether the idea seemed random, trivial, painful, or exciting. They all went on the notes.

It didn’t take long for everyone to fill their poster board with little yellow notes spanning decades with everything from happy memories and names of family members to devastating tragedies and times of transition.  It was pretty profound to see parts of your life unfolding in front of you in such a visual display.

The reason for the post-it notes was simple. We all tend to pre-filter our stories.

Think about it. When you share your story with people, you tend to reference the same key moments, people, transitions, etc. that seem important to you. You leave out other things that seem less significant, less meaningful, or perhaps, less pleasant. Our pre-filtered, packaged stories probably do a better job of telling people what we value than it does at telling people our true stories.

Unfortunately, we can also miss key moments in our story where God was present and at work… times in our lives that seemed confusing, disturbing, painful, which we’ve just tucked away and forgotten about. The life mapping exercise was an opportunity to take some of those things off the shelf and look at them again, to reconsider our story and God’s presence in it with an unfiltered lens.

We placed the post-it notes on a poster board and arranged them chronologically, and then took time to rewrite any negative memories on pink Post-it notes, for contrast.  It looked like a colorful storyboard for a movie about my life.

Retelling the Story

Before share our stories with the other retreatants, we were given time and space to think and pray through our storyboard.  One of the steps for doing so was to look at our story as a whole, searching for connections that we may not have seen before.  To reconsider where God had been present to us.

It was like those connect the dots by number pictures you used to have as a kid.  The ones you did even when you were too old and could easily tell what the picture was before you started.  I remember working on them at Pizza Hut on family night.  There was always one or two on the place mat.

Of course, I knew all about my storyboard.  I thought I knew all about the connections too.  What surprised me most were the connections between certain dots and the picture that emerged.  I am good at telling my stories (as we all are) and I typically use a handful of experiences, memories, people and places to do so.  But, I am more than just a bunch stories that are easy listening, successful, slightly suspenseful, sometimes overly funny and always a little insightful.  My stories are sometimes scary and sad, painful and foolish, with not so happy endings and a few failures, too.

I was grateful to see God at work in each of my Post-it notes; the good and the bad; the yellow and the pink.  It would have been almost impossible to see Him at work had I not made those connections on my storyboards.

What’s your story?

I challenge and encourage you to carve out some time, maybe an hour each evening to begin mapping out your story.  Grab some yellow and pink Post-it notes and a pen.  Using a poster board or even a large table will help you lay things out.  However, depending on how long you go, you may need a spare bedroom and a whole wall or two.

What parts of your story have you filtered out? Where’s God been present in those things? What dots start to connect as you reconsider the themes God has been weaving throughout your life?

Resource

If you’d like some more help in the life-mapping exercise, check out this helpful life-mapping guide produced by Nathan Shattuck from http://www.careofsouls.net

Ben Myers
Camp Director at Arrowhead Bible Camp
Ben Myers has served as the Camp Director at Arrowhead Bible Camp in Brackney, PA for the past 13 years. Arrowhead is a ministry committed to discipleship through its programs for adults with developmental disabilities, missions opportunities for youth groups, and mentoring of High School and College students. Ben also teaches as an adjunct professor at Lancaster Bible College and holds degrees from Cairn University and Baptist Bible Seminary.