Blast those pesky words of the year

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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.

My Pinterest party is better than yours

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I had a sobering revelation the other day. While texting a friend about planning speakers and activities for our moms’ group, I discovered a major shortcoming in my life, and perhaps fatal flaw in my involvement helping lead this group:

I have no marketable skills to offer other moms.

Fellow mamas have come and shared their expertise in cooking, couponing, photography, fitness, and DIY home décor. Massively talented women have given us tutorials on floral design, taught us about learning styles, and straight up preached to us about Scriptural truths for nurturing relationships.

And what do I bring to this well-endowed table?

My current list of qualifications includes proficiency in cleaning toilets, experience baking “healthy” and “tasty” treats, and aptitude for completing complex tasks such as driving. Before becoming a full-time stay-at-home mom, I worked as an editor for a company that publishes magazines covering everyone’s favorite subject matter: electrical engineering. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism.

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Given the general population’s concern with grammar and spelling, I’m confident I could enthrall an audience with a presentation on verb tense consistency, dangling modifiers, and improper apostrophe placement. Or, I could talk about my infrequently updated blog. I’d call it, How to Write a Melancholy Post on a Serious, Intensely Personal Issue. That’d be a winner, for sure.

There’s another gift I could share with the group, though I hesitate to mention it due to the level of difficulty involved. Out of the generosity of my heart, I’m going to reveal the secrets behind my flair for throwing an epic kids’ birthday party. Don’t fret if you can’t follow this complicated process:

Step 1: Log into Pinterest, search a party theme, and pin your favorite ideas.

Step 2: Execute those copied ideas.

I just know you can’t even.

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Obviously, I’m joking here. Merely using a little sarcasm, self-deprecating humor, and silly modern colloquialisms to illustrate a point.

We are continually comparing ourselves to others as a frame of reference to evaluate our talents, abilities, and even self-worth. We all do it, all the time. Us moms are particularly susceptible to this temptation, though it applies to any person who falls under the category of Someone Who Is Alive.

Psychologists describe this process through social comparison theory, which suggests that people have an innate drive to analyze themselves in relation to others. Engaging in these comparisons helps us establish benchmarks by which we can make accurate assessments of ourselves.

You don’t need a PhD in Psychology to realize the danger here. Looking at it in the context of motherhood, you can readily find another mom who’s having a bad day and congratulate yourself for having your crap together better than she does. Conversely, you can see another mama who appears to be crushing this parenting gig and walk away thinking you’re a total loser. Problem is, neither of these conclusions necessarily provides an accurate representation of you or your counterparts.

Thus blooms the potential for a person’s descent into insidious introspection, relationship-damaging resentment, and joy-sucking discontentment.

A while ago I was reading about this topic in a Christian self-help book (gotta admit, not my fave genre). To deter unhealthy comparisons, the author proposed several useful strategies and one pretty ridiculous one. These included asking God to show you areas of vulnerability (great), responding with humility and gratitude (awesome), and ignoring everyone around you (huh?).

While I agree that you shouldn’t let comparisons run wild and wreck your life, it seems too simplistic to prescribe a “just say no” treatment to an instinctive cognitive process. It would require shutting down part of your brain, a feat equivalent to getting my energetic 5-year-old to sit at the dinner table for more than five minutes without squirming, fidgeting, or flopping around. Good luck with that.

I think there’s a more effective strategy available for managing the ill effects of upward social comparisons (i.e., you’re better than me).

Let’s face reality and accept that we can’t win at everything. When someone is truly better than us in some way, instead of allowing our deficiency to tear us down, let’s acknowledge their strength and build them up through respectful admiration and earnest imitation.

This radical view on comparisons dawned on me the summer we moved from Missouri to Oregon. As we waited to close on our house, my husband lived at a hotel so he could start work while our sons and I stayed with my brother- and sister-in-law and their two sons. Caring for four boys ages 2 and younger under the same roof was absolute crazy town. Just try to imagine the amount of poop we cleaned and the number of tears we all shed.

My sister-in-law, Kim, and I were a great team, tossing each other diapers when we were in a bind, initiating story time when meltdowns reached critical mass, and high-fiving each other on our way to house-wide naptime. We had ample opportunity to witness each other’s ups and downs and see how the other person handled the stress of raising littles.

The main takeaway from my period of observation? The fact that Kim had a million times infinity more patience than I did. She had a knack for handling conflicts with remarkable composure and on many occasions calmed her kids and mine by maintaining a level head. Then there was me – flipping out whenever my toddler darted off on his own and muttering obscenities every time my infant refused to eat his pureed peas. Compared to my long-suffering sister-in-law, I was a People of Walmart-level Mom Fail.

During a rare moment of logical lucidity, I considered some options for how I could respond:

Option 1: Be pissed at myself for being a terrible mother.

Option 2: Be pissed at my sister-in-law for making me look like a terrible mother.

Option 3: Be impressed by her strength, give her credit for being an awesome mother, and aspire to be like her in this regard.

Recognizing Option #3 was a game-changer for me. I discovered I could skip right over the rabbit hole of self-incrimination leading to the Land of Resentment and jump onboard the Affirmation Bandwagon, cheering others on as they use their talents and emulating their example to become a better person.

Later that summer, when encountering moments of child-induced duress, I tried to pause and ask myself, What Would Kim Do? Would she diffuse the situation by making silly faces or starting a tickle fight? Or would she get down to toddler eye level and ask simple questions to determine the best course of action from the child’s point of view? The bag of tricks didn’t work every time, but it helped me remain calm and act in a more loving manner.

I agree that it is important to “stay in your lane” and keep your eyes focused on the race God set before you (Hebrews 12:1). However, I believe there is value in observing others, not in the spirit of competition, but to appreciate the gifts God has given the whole body of Christ and to spur one another on in the areas where God made you shine (1 Corinthians 12, Hebrews 10:24).

So maybe I use a search engine like a boss and throw a better kids’ birthday party than you do. But I’m certain you have many other fine qualities that I’d love to commend and copy as freely as I do other pins.

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