Turning Points

Most of us have an intuitive understanding of what is meant by a “turning point” in life. For better or worse, it is a major change, perhaps in our outer circumstance, possibly in our inmost sense of being. It is an ancient concept. The Greek philosopher Aristotle spoke of it as “peripeteia”: a sudden reversal of fortune or change in one’s circumstances. In movies, in plays, and in written stories, turning points are dramatic moments. They are in our lives as well.

Psychologists describe a turning point as a “long-lasting redirection in the path of a person’s life,” noting that the person may undergo “a major transformation in views about the self, identity, or the meaning of life.”

Those of us who have reached our elder years likely can look back and identify a number of significant turning points that have changed our lives and shaped our sense of who we are. They may involve such negative experiences as an accident, an illness, the death of a spouse, family member or close friend, or the end of a job or long-term relationship. It also might stem from a marriage or new relationship, a promotion, an award or recognition, a significant financial gain, or a momentous decision you have made. Readers of the Hebrew scriptures are familiar with the story of Queen Esther who risked being put to death by entering the royal court unbidden to request that the king not destroy her Jewish people. As she weighed that great decision, her Uncle Mordecai counselled her: “Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created.” Certainly it was a turning point in her life.

For many of us, recalling and reflecting on one or more of the Turning Points in our life can provide a perspective that leads us to better self-understanding and a greater sense of wholeness. If you are writing a longer autobiographical account, this activity is essential. The sheer volume of one’s life experience is overwhelming; one cannot tell everything. As you consider what to include in your life story, the Turning Points offer vital criteria for your selection process. It is the key Turning Points that will provide the skeletal structure for your narrative.

Turning Points Writing Guidelines: 

Out of the thousands of memories from the many days we have lived, some still hold great importance. These are moments when our lives have changed direction.

Option A: Conscious, Analytical Recall

As you look back over your life, make a list of ten or twelve Turning Points, those events or experiences that brought long-lasting redirection.  When you have done so, choose one or more of those turning points explore it in more detail:

  • First, record your memories of the circumstances. When and where did you experience this particular Turning Point? What led up to it? At the time, did the change seem to be positive or negative? 
  • Second, reflect on the nature and the consequences of the change. How was your life afterwards different from what it had been before? Did it alter your sense of who you were and what your life was about? Though there may have been loss and grieving involved, did it bring about any positive growth, any personal transformation or greater understanding of past experiences?
  • Third, can you now discern a spiritual dimension in that turning point? Dr. Paul Tournier, a Swiss psychotherapist, spoke of Turning Points as “God moments.” “At the back of every such encounter,” he wrote in The Seasons of Life, “whether we know it or not, there is always an encounter with God” (59). Ralph Heintzman, in Rediscovering Reverence, says much the same. “This spontaneous, almost irresistible encounter with the spirit often takes place at key turning points in our lives, especially those that bring us face to face with the mysteries of being…”(62).

Recalling the Turning Points in our lives can help us to integrate our experiences and our growth in self-knowledge. If we think about how Turning Point may have been an encounter with the Divine, the perspective we gain also may help us to grow spiritually and to form a more coherent understanding of God’s presence in our lives.

Option B: Evocative Recall (Steppingstones)

As an alternative, you might wish to use a different approach to Turning Points, an approach that leads perhaps to a different end, one more private and therapeutic. We sometimes hear people who have had a near-death experience say that their whole life flashed before their eyes. Whatever else was happening, they were not recalling their past in the systematic, analytic way. Very possibly, their powerful memories and images were a spontaneous eruption from the subconscious.

Dr. Ira Progoff, an American psychotherapist, developed the Intensive Journal Workshop to help people explore the wisdom of their subconscious. He felt that personal growth was inward and very elusive, “comprised primarily of subjective feelings, states of mind, and states of emotion” (17). Our pivotal life experiences are subjective, not objective and they are grounded in qualitative—not chronological—time.

Dr. Progoff developed a journal tool which he called “Steppingstones.” In this approach, our turning points reveal themselves not through conscious analysis, but in an evocative, intuitive manner. It seeks life’s turning points using creative processes like that of an artist. Progoff wrote: “…it may be that the events of your life will present themselves to you as a flowing and continuous movement, as a river moving through many changes and phases…”

The following “Steppingstones” approach is based on the guidance of Dr. Progoff.

In whatever way works best for you, take a few minutes to relax—by breathing slowly or perhaps with soft music. 

  • Close your eyes and let memories from your past come like a dream. Do not try to analyze them. Just let the remembered experiences well up in you, like a river springing forth at the time of your birth. 
  • Let the changing situations and circumstances of your life flow back through your mind. Your memory of some of these events may come rapidly, filled with detail. Others they may arrive only as fragments. Be patient with them and let them appear as they will.
  • When you are ready, jot down on a piece of paper the ones that seem most important. They may include such basic experiences as starting school, graduating, getting married, starting a job, and moving to new locales. Other events may occur to you, some of these more personal and unique to you. 
  • A simple word or phrase may be sufficient to remind you of each event. Write them down however they occur to you. Later, if you wish, you can return to this list of Turning Points and number the events in chronological order.

May you recall readily, record fully, and reflect meaningfully.