How to Discover Your Word

Out with resolutions; in with words!

A few years ago, I noticed a trend of people selecting a word to embody their goals for the new year. At first, I thought it was kind of silly, like how in high school people would have a song that was their song, but really it wasn’t about them. They just claimed it as such. For example, my friend had this weird boyfriend and their song was K-Ci and Jojo’s All My Life. So maybe it was a song that has significance for them, but it made the rest us feel awkward when we were in the car with them and it came on the radio, and they forgot we were there. Anyway, I digress.

Choosing a word is much more personal and significant than your favorite make-out song or another New Year’s Resolution. Rather than a vague resolution like, “I will be healthy in the new year” or, “I will quit [this bad habit]” they chose a word that gives depth or creates a theme. After all, with a resolution, we feel kind of like it’s all or nothing, and when we fail, we tend to scrap the whole thing. Resolutions require sudden change, and we humans just aren’t set up that way. We are made for transformation and growth, but not at the flip of a calendar page. In that way, New Year’s Resolutions are almost designed to fail.

As a former literature major, I love themes and deeper meanings and, of course, words. I love words so much that it’s difficult to narrow it down to one word for the whole year.

In 2015 I adopted, “surrender and expect” as my words–and they’re still words I’m carrying with me. I’ve repeated them, written about them, and meditated on them so much, they’ve become woven into my being. I pray them when I don’t know what else to pray, even two years later.

2016 was all about overcoming fear and launching into bigger and better things–breaking old, tired, unfruitful ways. The phrase that has rolled around in my head is from Steven Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. One of the seven habits, “Begin with the End in Mind.” I hope I haven’t become too preoccupied with morbidity, but I have been thinking about this path I’m on and where it will eventually end. My word for 2016 has been “Legacy.” I’ve highlighted verses in scripture that relate to legacy and generational living. Much like my words from 2015, I’ll carry this word with me, kind of like the rings on a tree–each year, another layer builds on the one before. We don’t just dispose of it as we move on to the next.

Last week my friend said she was praying for me and God gave her a word picture of sorts, and I feel like that is leading me to my word or theme for 2017. As I seek more wisdom on this, I thought I would share my process with you, in case you’re hoping to have a word that has meaning. Rather than just arbitrarily choosing a word, go through a process to find some deeper meaning:

  1. Quiet yourself and pray. God already knows what he wants to do with you and through you in 2017. Borrow my words from 2015 and surrender to what he has for you, and expect him to provide it.
  2. Invite others to speak into your life. When someone offers a word of encouragement, advice, or even correction, take it to God to sift and discern its value. God often uses other people to speak to us to draw us into relationship with one another. (Also, people sometimes say awful things that aren’t from God, so you need to run it by Him for wisdom, and let it fall away.)
  3. Free write some words. I loved teaching free writing to my students, especially when they felt stuck. Keep in mind, no one will be seeing what you’re writing, so feel free to unload your subconscious and see what comes of it. Spend some time making a list of every word you think of. Next, pray and ask God to eliminate what’s not from Him.
  4. Look for repeating themes or words that continually get your attention in your everyday experiences.

Eventually, a word or theme will emerge for you about what God wants you to study this year and how specifically he is inviting you to grow.

Do you already have a word this year, or have you had words in the past that are a focus for the whole year? I’d love to hear them!

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The 5 Regrets of the Dying.

Last year when we moved to Nashville, I signed up to receive notification emails for upcoming estate sales in town. I browse through the photos to see if it’s worth dragging the children with me on a Friday morning, early enough to get the good things. As you might imagine, it’s tricky to properly browse an estate sale with small children in tow. We avoid the rooms filled with crystal and other breakable things, and stick to our search for records, vintage books, or other folksy treasures.

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I can’t help but wonder about the people selling their things. Lately I’ve noticed a ton of big collections: coins, china, figurines—the sale announced today features a large collection of pocketknives—and sadness strikes me. Is this what the owners thought would happen as they spent years amassing collections? That strangers would riffle though and offer a few bucks for it?

In Bronnie Ware’s book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, she unpacks a few big themes that she experienced while working in palliative care. Can you guess what the top five are? What about what’s not on the list?

On the list:
• I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
• I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
• I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
• I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
• I wish I had let myself be happier.

NOT on the list:
• I wish I had kept my house perfectly immaculate every day.
• I wish I hadn’t wasted all that time with my children.
• I wish I had collected more stuff.
• I wish I had watched more TV instead of finishing my novel.
• I wish I had spent less time around a campfire having all those great conversations.

These are a few of the things I feel are keeping us stuck on the surface of life, when we’re really created dig deeply.

We’re created for meaningful relationships and experiences, yet many of us are stuck on hamster wheels that generate that list of regrets.

Meeting others’ expectations instead of our own—or God’s.

Working to buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like. (Dave Ramsey paraphrase)

Stewing on ideas or feelings without knowing how to authentically and meaningfully communicate.

Having thousands of “friends” on social media, but not investing well with those who matter most.

Doing the things that keep us busy instead of feeding our souls.

What small steps can you take today to be on the path to fulfillment rather than regret?