The Importance of Self-Reflection

Sometime life is just plain hard. 2020 is not going to be ranked in my personal history as one of my favorite years. The most difficult challenges I faced involved personal relationships. I was pretty much a mess, struggling to know what to do as God patiently waited for me to get a clue and listen.

I finally stopped imagining retakes of conversations and faced the hard truth. The only thing that would help move me forward and grow was self-reflection: focusing on my own thoughts, decisions, emotions, and behaviors. I found this both ironic and humbling as a woman who’d published a book about self-talk. But apparently writing a book on a topic did not mean the author had mastered the content for life. Ahem.

Why self-reflection?

Our humanness makes us blind to our greatest flaws. Self-reflection—particularly the habit of self-reflection—increases our intimacy with God, helps us make better decisions, deepens our self-awareness, increases our awareness and respect for others, and helps us make wiser, biblically-aligned responses.

Self-reflection helps us transition from reactionary living to responsive living and from purposeless decisions to biblical, purpose-driven decisions.It gives us purposeful, intentional time to sit alone with God and ask Him questions about our life, our relationships, and carrying out His purpose in our lives.

Qualities of Self-Reflection: Openness, Observation, and Objectivity

A number of my friends exhibit the qualities of self-reflection. But I also observe confidence, calm, and a Spirit-driven curiosity for others in these same individuals. I believe that the qualities/practices listed below, in conjunction with the regular practice of self-reflection, beget additional positive character qualities and attributes as self-awareness increases.


Openness is described as the ability to see things for what they are, not what we want them to be or think them to be. It’s the ability to view and judge ourselves the same way we look at and judge others—with perspective and non-emotional distance. This requires enormous honesty and hard work.

My openness, thank God, was the key in the lock that opened the door to self-revelation for me. Openness allowed me the opportunity to honesty observe myself and, ultimately, take responsibility for my part in the relational issues that had been troubling me. This ultimately led to healing.

We ‘re not aware of our own biases and stereotypes. And we all are guilty of implicit bias; it’s impossible not to grow up in a culture and not regard that culture as our yardstick for safety, worth, and value. Neuroscience supports this view.

We must be open and willing to search our hearts and examine our part in conflict or tension. Openness means we’re willing to honestly explore our actions, words, and motives.


I wrestled for weeks and months trying to identify my source/s of offense. Then I spoke with a dear friend and counselor who kindly advised me: “It’s not what you say, Shelly. It’s how what you say sounds to someone else.”

In an instant, I perceived my words in a different light. I could see where I was responsible and what I needed to say.

Observation is the ability to observe yourself the way you observe external events and others: with perspective and distance. When we observe, we focus on what drives our decisions and behaviors. When I wrote my apology, I was able to include what had driven my behavior because self-reflection had revealed it to me. Now I’m able to discover it in my self-talk before it comes out my mouth. And even more importantly, I’ve been able to trace the source and pull it out by the roots.


One of the most difficult aspects of self-reflection for me is objectivity: the ability to separate your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors from your identity. Aspects of my childhood deeply influenced a false sense of my identity. I grew up thinking that my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, as well as other people’s perceptions of me, were my identity. Because part of my identity included my behavior, I worked very hard to be good.

However, as a woman who found my identity in Christ, I learned to question those thoughts and replaced them with objective truth. I am who God says I am. I practice self-reflection because, although my identity is secure, I mess up. Self-reflection gives me the insight I need to grow in Christ, heal wounds, build bridges, and live free. Without self-reflection, I remain trapped in my deceptive self-talk.

The really good news is that as we regularly practice self-reflection, it becomes engrained in our nature. We find ourselves “listening in” to our thoughts and evaluating what we say and do before we say or do it.

What about you? Do you practice self-reflection? If so, how have you used it as a tool of self-growth? I’d love to hear from you.


The Look of Love

My son Nate and his precious son Gabriel

I’m glad to announce that I can finally claim a new, longed-for title: Grandma.

My son Nate and his wife Allison welcomed their first child, Gabriel Daniel, into their home in June. Can I just say that I adore my precious grandson? And it takes every ounce of self-control not to devote all of my Facebook space to telling the world how beautiful he is.

I can’t help but be reminded that my husband Dan’s and my love for baby Gabe is but a glimmer of God’s great love for us. As Dan and I sit ogling over pictures of our grand baby, looking for opportunities to flash his precious face in front of someone, I know we reflect God’s heart for each of us as His children.

We can’t imagine the love of God the Father as He communicates His affection for us to Jesus, His Son. And I know that God longs for nothing more than to draw us close to Him and have us look into his face with the trust and openness of a father holding his own precious child.

Ponder that today as you think of God’s great and precious and very intimate love for you.

Writing Between the Cracks

Tomorrow, July 5th, at 10:05, my interview with Shelley Irwin will air on GVSU stations 88.5 FM and 1480 AM. Shelley and I cover a broad range of subjects regarding my books and my writing, among them, “writing in the cracks”–the approach to writing that helped me complete five books in three years, in addition to contributing to three Bibles, while taking care of my dying father-in-law and my dying mother in my home.

Let me say quite honestly that this accomplishment does not make me more remarkable than most of my caregiving friends or more prolific than a great many of my writing friends. In fact, since joining great organizations such as the Advanced Writers’ and Speakers’ Association and the Christian Authors’ Network, I’ve come to recognize just how many caregiving authors balance similar lives. And most of us share a similar approach to our writing: we do it in odd places, at odd times, using whatever means possible at our disposal, and we can slip into writing mode at the blink of an eye.

So here are a few tips for how I do it. They’re simply a window into my writing life. (And they may give you an idea why it’s hard for me to flip off the writing switch when I go to bed at night.)

1.  Always carry a notebook, although I discourage propping it on the wheel of your car and drafting chapters as you drive down the road. A voice recorder works better for this. But for those moments when you don’t want to look like a CIA agent while you’re waiting for your dentist to call you in for your appointment, the notebook works better.

2.  Keep a notebook and pen at the side of your bed for capturing those brilliant ideas that come to you just as you’re drifting off to sleep, then keep you awake for three hours. And a bedside lamp that doesn’t throw too much light on your spouse’s face.

3.  Always carry a voice recorder. It can keep you out of ditches on the back roads of Illinois when the sudden urge to draft a chapter overwhelms you. In theory, of course.

4.  Get up just a little bit earlier in the morning and draft a few pages. Yeah, really. Don’t give me that look. You’re talking to a 50+ woman who’s AT the YMCA at 5:00 am.

5.  Use the time to write when you’re supposed to be doing other things. For instance, last night Dan and I went to a concert that didn’t really hit my blesser button. So I smiled sweetly and slipped off into novel land. I brainstormed scenes and created settings. By the time the concert was over, I’d come up with a few good reasons to grab my notebook.

6.  On long driving trips, take the computer and write. This works best when someone else is at the wheel. But when my husband and I recently drove from Michigan to Maine and back, I plugged my computer into the lighter of our car and drafted my way across the USA.

7.  Use your environment. Every day is an opportunity for research. Several months ago I accompanied dear friends to a medical center. During our visits there, I noticed a precious woman who regularly stocked the coffee area in the lobby. I immediately fell in love with her and decided to incorporate a version of her into one of my novels.

Just this week, a patient at my chiropractor’s office was running late. He and his family came tearing into the parking lot and poured out of their car like circus clowns before entering the waiting room bellowing and arguing at one another. He left his vehicle angled across two parking spaces, two feet from the curb. I filed the entire scene away in my mind for future reference.

Use everyday life for research on characters, scenes, motivations. Keep your eyes open. Read the newspaper. Watch the evening news. Listen to your kids. You never know where you’ll find an important tidbit of piece of wisdom.

8.  Above everything, feed your passion for intimacy with God and live out the biblical truth you already know. I can honestly say I don’t have a whole lot to say, apart from what I’ve learned from Louie Konopka, Gary Heim, Tim Hoyt, Don Pearson, and the entire pastoral team at my church. If you don’t attend a church that’s helping to equip you to engage with life empowered by the Spirit of God on a day-by-day basis, give some serious thought to what the real problem may be. I can’t stand it when I can’t get to church because I know Louie or one of my pastors will be presenting truth that can intersect with my life and change me. This is the true power behing my writing. Worship is writing. Prayer is writing. Time with the people of God and time alone with God is writing.