November 10, 2023 • Article, De Pree Journal
I recently spent the last of this year’s vacation time on a solo trip to Switzerland and France. My plan was to wander the streets of Geneva for a couple of days before taking the train west to Paris, then south to Grenoble to stay with a friend. It would be a lot to accomplish in the six days I had available, though it all seemed doable.
However, the day before I was supposed to leave for Paris, I remembered that a coworker had recommended I visit a French town in the Alps called Annecy, which sat right between Geneva and Grenoble. Suddenly, the thought of taking the easy route to a nearby town sounded much more appealing than rushing across the country to see the most famous attractions. So, I canceled my stay in Paris, and, twenty-four hours later, I was standing at the edge of a wide lake, frozen in awe as I gazed up at the Alps.
That moment of awe snapped me out of my tourist mode and brought me to a full stop so that I could reflect on my life. As I reminisce about my trip from that point on, I can see a clear pattern: whenever I pause to fully take in an experience through one of my five senses, I drift off into a calm state of reflection. Below are examples of how each of my five senses helped me throughout the journey to reflect on everything, from my deepest values to who God is in my life.
Sight: As I stared across the mountains, I tried to wrap my mind around their size and the breadth of God’s power that made them possible in the first place. The image of a powerful God stood in sharp contrast to the image I’d had over the past year, during which life’s trials felt far too big for God to alleviate. The sight of the mountains helped me see God as one who is strong enough to handle my hardships, even if the help will often look different than what I would expect.
Touch: After leaving Annecy, I arrived at the train station in Grenoble, where my friend Héloïse rushed up to wrap her arms around me in a tight squeeze. Though I’d had fun chatting with strangers all along the way, none of those connections were as meaningful as the warm embrace of a friend. Her simple hug reminded me that nothing in life is as important as close relationships and that I want to live in a way that prioritizes cultivating them.
Taste: The next morning, Héloïse brewed some espresso on the stovetop, which she paired with toast made with bread from a local bakery. After I’d slathered some chocolate hazelnut spread over one slice and taken a bite, I savored every bit of flavor as if I were tasting a fine delicacy. I’d visited plenty of amazing restaurants so far on the trip, but it seemed that nothing could be as comforting as mere coffee and toast. I laughed to myself as I realized I could probably never be motivated in my career by the pursuit of luxury, as it is the simplest pleasures that bring the greatest joy.
Sound: While we were cooking dinner one night, Héloïse put on some background music for us, choosing to play an album by my favorite band. From the very first notes, I got a flashback to a long walk I’d taken years before in Germany while listening to the same songs. Back then, it had served as a sort of soundtrack for dreaming up new big goals I had for my future. Hearing those songs again in France made me ask myself what I’ve done to pursue those goals and what steps I still need to take to reach them.
Smell: On my last day in Grenoble, Héloïse and I were strolling away from her apartment when she asked me if I smelled the scent of bread. I took in a long inhale of a sweet aroma, assuming it was from a traditional French bakery. Yet, she explained that it was from a little North African restaurant where they were making their traditional flatbread, which had now become her favorite snack. At that, I took a moment to ponder the beauty of different cultures blending, marveling at how it had probably always been God’s plan for people from opposite sides of the earth to live together in community. It hit me that the more I’ve gotten to know people from different worlds than mine, the more I’ve enjoyed life and gained a richer image of who God is.
If I hadn’t taken such moments to pause, I imagine my trip would have felt pretty rushed and empty, leaving me drained at the end. Yet, because of those times of reflection, I left Europe feeling inspired and refreshed, ready to head back to work and pursue the things that matter most to me.
Sensory Exercises to Help You Reflect
You don’t have to go on vacation to enter deep times of reflection. The next time you’re at work, consider trying one of these sensory exercises that might help you reflect:
- Sight: Before you start your workday, spend a moment outside to look around at nature. When you spot something beautiful, ask yourself what it reveals about God and how you can carry that picture with you throughout the day.
- Touch: When setting up your workstation, find something to make it more comfortable, such as a soft blanket or pillow. As you feel more physically relaxed, observe how that affects your levels of productivity and creativity.
- Taste: When you take a break from work to eat lunch or a snack, put away any distractions so that you can fully focus on the flavors. When you taste something delicious, ask yourself why you like it and what that reflects about your other preferences in life.
- Sound: Play your favorite music while working on a task that you do on a regular basis. Notice if the music changes anything about your experience of or perspective on that task, as well as your job as a whole.
- Smell: When you happen to notice a scent at some point in the day, pause to think about where it is coming from. Then, notice if the scent triggers any strong feelings or significant memories from the course of your life.
Banner image by Susan Flynn on Unsplash.
Jessica Fregoe now serves as Administrative Coordinator at the De Pree Center. She has a passion for theological education, having earned a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Intercultural Studies at San Diego Christian College before earning a M.A. in Missiology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She’s had a lifelong dedication to serving in ministry, having worked and volunteered for a variety of churches and Christian organizations both in the United States and overseas. She comes to Fuller with years of experience in administration and is excited to support the work of the De Pree Center.