As an achievement-driven checklist junkie, I’ve long since punted on making New Year’s resolutions. These unnervingly eager declarations are a death trap for those of us planners who’re strong on the start-up and weak on the follow-through. January gets me bursting with fresh ideas and gleaming ideals, then by March I’ve melted into a puddle of guttered expectations. So I’ve learned to take a hard pass on any annual pledges for self-improvement and opted to live my life free from additional regrets and pressures beyond the standard Perfectionist Anxiety Quota.
A newish New Year’s practice buzzed about within Christian subculture today is upping the ante on spiritual weightiness while minimizing the verbiage of gushing “The Best Me I Can Be” resolutions. Face value, the activity sounds appealing, but it carries the potential for guilt infliction as well as a high annoyance factor that predisposes me to poke a little fun at it.
I’m talking about those infernal words of the year people have been posting effusively about ever since January 1st. Also known as #oneword, and not to be confused with the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year (which for 2016 was “Dumpster fire” – how awesome/accurate is that?), this exercise involves asking God to give you a word that will help you grow in your faith and awaken to His presence during the next 365 days.
Considering that I’m a writer, editor, and self-avowed word nerd, I should be all over this trend. People are getting excited about the English language? Huzzah! Better yet, the whole goal of this practice is to know Jesus more, so it’s gotta be golden, right? No chance of exaggeration or misapplication here. *stated with a holy wink*
Notwithstanding these positives, the cynic in me burns to point out the pitfalls of the word of the year undertaking. For starters, how does one petition the Lord for their one word? Is it predestined? Do you receive a prophetic vision? Must you complete a mystical 12-step process to unveil it? If so, count me out; ain’t got time for that when there’re so many “snow day fun” pics to like on Instagram.
What if you ask, but do not receive a word from God? Is it because you lacked faith? Or could He have a higher purpose in withholding a word – perhaps to instead give you AN ENTIRE SENTENCE? And might other believers shun you for this glaring deficiency in your walk? Imagine having to confess this as you join a new Christian ladies’ group: “Hello, and welcome! What is your word of the year? You don’t have one?! Oh, that’s fine, you can go have a seat over there.”
What if you ask and do receive a word, and it’s kinda bizarre? For example, “bumfuzzled.” Or, what if your word was “think”? Would you honestly think about “think” all year long? How meta of you. My concern is that the verbal barrage of two little boys’ separate nonstop monologues might drown out the Lord’s still, small voice and cause me to mistakenly choose a word deriving from the potty vernacular.
All joking and making light of spiritual matters aside, I have several friends whom I respect who participate in this custom and find great value in doing so. As another plus, one of the foremost proponents of one word selection is Margaret Feinberg, an author I enjoy and appreciate for her concept of God’s “Sacred Echo” reverberating throughout the everyday moments of our lives.
So truthfully, I don’t have any legitimate problem with identifying and focusing on a word of the year, and commend others for their commitment to enlivening their faith and seeking Jesus in a specific, thoughtful way.
As I mentioned at the outset, I don’t do New Year’s resolutions because I struggle seeing them through to the end. With the word of the year ritual, I struggle narrowing my scope to a single word and contemplating such a wide swath of time as the calendar year. I’m not a big picture person, so please never ask me to vision cast my life beyond my kid’s next soccer practice.
If I forced myself to condense the past year into a couple major themes God highlighted and repeated at varying times, I’d make a short list: wisdom, joy, surrender, humility.
I don’t know what words or themes He has in store for me in 2017, nor do I feel compelled to spend awhile figuring that out. In my 30ish years of life, He has proven time and time again that He will make known whatever new ideas or renewed perspectives or convicting truths He wants me to realize according to His schedule, not mine – which, to my unending surprise, turns out to be the right way to go, every time.
Maybe the Lord will further surprise/tease me by doing some marvelous work that I’ve previously scoffed at – in this case, giving me one word for the whole year. I just hope He doesn’t call me to make a resolution to throw out my checklists.