In a brief piece posted online on The Huffington Post (03/02/2014), Susie Moore, a life coach in New York City listed “5 Killer Life Coach Questions You Can Ask Yourself.” She doesn’t say much about each question, which is good since the point is for her readers to reflect on them, not listen to her talk about them.
1. How happy am I overall, today, out of 10?
2. What type of life do I want to lead?
3. What does success look like to me?
4. What brings me joy?
5. What can I do in the next two weeks to bring more joy, passion and purpose to my life?
These are questions Moore uses to help her clients examine their lives, identify where change might be wise, and then make plans so that they might better flourish in the coming years.
I know nothing about Susie Moore, but certainly admire her use of thoughtful questions to prompt reflection. Setting aside unhurried time to ask some carefully worded questions about our lives can be a good exercise. Life has a tendency to get away from us and if we don’t pause periodically to reflect on how things are unfolding it’s easy to end up living not intentionally but by default. Expectations and busyness slowly begin to press into our time and energy and soon the priorities we set for ourselves have been supplanted by a new set that takes on a life of its own.
Margie and I used to set aside time each quarter to review our calendars and assess whether the priorities we had set based on our sense of calling were reflected in how we actually were using our time and what we were saying Yes and No to. Almost every quarter we found ourselves trying to figure out how we could deviate so far from what we had so carefully planned. It was a very discouraging discovery. We finally solved our discouragement by agreeing that we should simply accept that we were far too fallen to maintain proper priorities for anything close to 120 days. We once attended a reading by author Jon Hassler who put our discovery into an axiom he lived by: When you are failing to meet your expectations, lower them.
One of the things we discovered about ourselves involved our sense of calling. Coming to identify God’s particular calling is a process that takes time. It involves trial and error, evaluation, feedback from others, and none of that came quickly or all at once. Still, it is knowing our calling that lets us know what good things we need to say No to so we can say Yes to the things that fit us. Repeatedly, as we sought to examine ourselves we’d discover that other people’s expectations or good projects had deflected us from our calling. It’s great that there are all sorts of opportunities to serve, but just because it’s a good chance to do a good thing doesn’t mean we all should sign up. Or that once we have signed up we should keep doing it until the end of time. Sometimes saying Yes to good things is a lack of Christian faithfulness.
The most famous proponent of the examined life, Moore notes, is Socrates. “An unexamined life,” Plato reports him as saying, “is not worth living.” It’s one of those propositions that seems so obvious and self-evident that few serious arguments are raised against it. We may bemoan our failure to live an examined life, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who seriously thinks the only life worth living is one lived entirely by default—if such a thing were even possible.
For the Christian, however, Socrates’ statement doesn’t quite capture the significance of the issue. St Paul warns that if we fail as citizens of God’s kingdom in regular and careful self-examination we are risking not merely an unworthy life but the judgment of God (1 Corinthians 11:28). This may not be a popular notion, but there it is. “Examine yourselves,” is the apostolic word, so that part is settled. All that remains is figuring out how we might accomplish that self-examination well.
The idea of developing a set of questions to reflect on when we periodically set aside some time for self-examination is one that we should consider. Because we are finite, we cannot anticipate all that our choices will bring, to say nothing about how our social and cultural context will morph over time. Complicating matters is the fact that we are also fallen. If being finite means our priorities can need resetting because we are able to see things only in part, being fallen means our priorities are easily perverted by pride, trying to please others, or being seduced by the values of ideologies and the various other idolatries that surround us in the world. The point is not to beat ourselves up for getting somewhat off track. Instead, it is intentionally pausing to reflect, repent and review what’s most important and sharpen the focus of our lives.
All of which suggests something worth some discussion and reflection.
Questions1. Do you regularly set aside unhurried time for thoughtful self-examination? If you do, how do usually structure it? If you don’t regularly set aside such time, why don’t you?
2. Some might respond that they are too busy to add time for self-examination. How would you respond?
3. How significant is regular, thoughtful self-examination? What reasons would you give to support your position? What might you willing to say No to in order to say Yes to this?
4. What do the Scriptures teach about self-examination, or living an examined life?
5. What is attractive or helpful in having a set of carefully developed questions to aid in the process of self-examination? Are there ways in which such a set of questions could become detrimental?
6. Different stages of life might introduce concerns for growth that are unique to or of special importance to that stage. If this is true of you, what question might you want to include that would cover it?
7. Discuss each of Susie Moore’s five questions. What is each attempting to uncover or examine? What do you find most helpful about the list? What is least helpful? Why?
8. Reword any of Moore’s five questions to better fit your sense of life and the meaning of human flourishing. Add any question you believe is needed to complete the list, being careful to not expand it too greatly—too long a list will make reflection more difficult.
9. The Lord’s Prayer—see Mathew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4—is best understood by Christians as our Lord’s concise summary of the things that should shape our most basic and essential concerns, priorities, thinking, and life. Compare this prayer with the list of questions you are developing—does the Lord’s Prayer suggest you should add a question, reword one, or perhaps define a question within the parameters of the prayer’s meaning?
10. To what extent can you identify your particular calling from God? How does your calling help define the questions on your list?
11. What practical plans should you make to use your set of questions?