“If you’re like most people, each January goes something like this: You choose a problematic behavior that has plagued you for years and vow to reverse it. In fact, you can probably think of two or three undesirable habits—make that four or five…”
These words can be found on the now wildly popular One Word Website. And oh, how true they are. This time of year seems to be the time for a litany of imperfections to be perfected and a throng of promises to be made commonly titled as “New Year’s Resolutions.”
At the gym I work at, we have an expectation that the Monday after January 1st will be crowded with people who have vowed to “get their life back together” by coming to cycle classes and pumping iron in the weight room. My boss tells us to be ready for the New Years crowd, but we all know that that crowd will disperse by mid-February.
And so it seems to be the case with other new years focus on problematic areas in need of correction.
Workout regimes fall to the wayside, diets are broken, cuss words are spoken, and those pictures we told ourselves we’d finally take or put into photo albums remain caught behind lenses or just not taken at all. It seems that the juggling act of trying to improve different parts of our already messy and chaotic lives is just too hard. How can we stay consistent with self-improvement when our focus is split into fractured pieces– our work life, our love life, our families, our personal fitness goals, our dreams, our desires for a better “me”?– it seems impossible to focus on all of it!
The idea behind Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen’s “One Word” philosophy is that we can do something about one thing this year instead of nothing about everything. They encourage you to boil it down to just one single word, to move beyond the cycle of long lists of changes you want to make that never get tackled.
“This process provides clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. Just one word that centers on your character and creates a vision for your future.-myoneword.org“
I was first introduced to this idea by one of my best friends, who told me that God always gave her a word that He used to teach her through each year. I thought I felt God using specific words to teach me as well, but I never formally chose one single word to keep my thoughts tethered to during these lessons.
Finally, I was encouraged by another friend to actually pick my “one word” last year, and, although I don’t think I lived it out perfectly, it was helpful to have one theme to keep coming back to throughout 2015.
My one word last year was “Slow”, which came, unknowingly at the time, during a year that would prove to be chaotic, shifting and a complete whirl-wind.
Having to keep coming back to the word “Slow” kept me grounded during times of change, patient during times of waiting, and calm during times when I normally would have lost my head.
This one word reminded me to breathe when I wanted to just walk out of my classroom full of students and never go back. It kept me patient when our heater wasn’t working in subzero weather and when water leaked all over the floor, pulling up the tile and making it impossible to walk anywhere without slipping or getting a shoe-full of dirty water.
This one word kept me from making hasty decisions when we were house-hunting, and kept me silent when I normally would have exploded with frustration at husband’s and my disagreements.
It kept me patient and plodding along as I trained for my second marathon, restless to race through a long trek that was going to take more out of me than I expected.
This one word kept me from jumping to conclusions when misunderstandings with family and friends arose. It kept me patient and prayerful when I got the letter in the mail that I was no longer employed by CPS, and it kept me hopeful and trusting when I still didn’t have a position number or a paycheck as 109 students met me in my classroom on the first day of school.
“Slow” kept me restful when I was sick and itching to get out of bed and get back to work.
It kept me patient with myself and determined when I was so depressed that I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning to go to a job that I hated.
“Slow” kept me patient with myself during the ongoing transition into working with my husband at a job I had no idea how to do. It kept me calm during times when I felt frustrated with my lack of progress, reminding me that this might be a slow process, and that it was more than okay.
“Slow” also showed me areas in my faith walk that I had skipped over, impatient to grow in places where God had not yet given in the increase for lack of my quiet and calm attention. He scaled me back with “Slow” so I could be nursed in areas I needed to mature in, a slow process that I couldn’t rush through no matter how determined or strong-willed I was.
I’m not saying I did it perfectly– there were plenty of times I flew off the handle and was completely out of control when I should have been slow and calm, as my husband, friends, and students will be quick to tell you– but this word “Slow” helped me keep it together more than I normally would during a year when I needed to rest, have patience, refrain from rushing into decisions, be extremely calm, and have painstaking endurance.
“Slow” permeated into all areas of my life– my personal life, my relationships, my work, the forming– or rather, the unraveling– of my identity, my faith walk, and even my health.
And so this year I trust that the word God is giving me will be perfectly designed to get me through 2016, even if I do not live it out perfectly.
As this new year was approaching I began to ask God what word He wanted me to focus on. Over and over again I kept hearing one word repeated to me, but I didn’t want to listen. You see, it was sort of a scary word for me, and I was hoping that it might be something else.
But as I scanned my journals, BSF lecture notes, written prayers, and even the songs I had been listening and dancing in worship to, I knew that this was the word He was giving me.
My one word for this year is “Surrender”.
Is there a more important word in the life of a Christ follower? But even more personally, is there a more important word in the life of a control-freak, type-A, worrier like myself?
I think not.
And so, as I look towards the year ahead, there are definitely some big decisions, plans, and changes coming along down the road. And I’m going to need to surrender all of them to God.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything about anything or have no part to play in what happens. It just means that I will take every thought, decision, action, and plan captive to Christ Jesus, and be obedient to Him and Him alone. It means letting go of expectation and preference so that I am I indifferent to any choice that is not Jesus-approved. Surrendering my plans, my dreams, my body, my mind, my desires, and my plan to Him and allowing God to really take control of where I end up.
Hm. Sounds a lot like what it means to follow Jesus doesn’t it? I should probably have been doing this already…
But to have a whole year to focus on simply surrendering… is a little scary because it requires complete trust in what I cannot plainly see. (That’s what faith is isn’t it?)
I remember when I first became a Christian about 6 years ago, laying in bed imagining what my life would be like, and God clearly spoke to me saying, “Claire, your life is not going to be anything like what you can dream up right now.”
I still believe that is true today, and that no matter how many times I envision the future, my life is not going to be like anything I can imagine.
And so far, that has proved to be true.
The thing that makes it less scary is that I wouldn’t change it for the world. So I guess I can trust Him, can’t I?
I know I have little hope of living out a long list of resolutions that I might want to make– get up every morning at 5:30am, workout everyday, get certified in 6 different fitness formats, master html and photoshop, open up an online store….. I could go on.
But I can do my very best, with God’s help, at living out one word to the best of my ability, and to allow it to permeate all areas of my life.
And with a word like “Surrender”, I guess I have no choice but to let it control everything I’ve got.
What’s your “one word” for 2016? I’d love to read about what word you’re going to live out this year!