5 Tips for Choosing A Word of the Year

Every year for the last 7 years I’ve chosen a word to guide my year. Sometimes the words come in November, sometimes in December, and other times in early January. Over the last few years I’ve become more and more intentional about selecting the one that will be my focus through the next 365 days so I want to share my journey for uncovering these words with you as well as some tips on how to do it for yourself.

At the end of 2018, I traveled to Utah for a four day trip over the New Year. I spent 4 days driving about 900 miles and during my trip was trying to decide on what my word would be the following year. Choosing a word is something I’d done the last few years so it wasn’t a new idea to me at the time. I had a list of words on my phone I thought could guide me, but not of them in my gut seemed like the one for me. I had hoped for one to begin my year but as I sat at a pub on the eve of the new year, I accepted that maybe my word wouldn’t come until later in January. I headed back to my hotel and decided for the first time to pray over my word. I prayed for clarity on what God wanted for me to step into this next year. It was a simple prayer, but within the next hour, this word, “bold” came to me. I realized that all the other words I had written down were good words, but that what I really desired was to be bold in all of those areas. What I’d written were more goals than a focus and this idea of bold could tie them all together. The following year I ran a half marathon, hiked the Manitou Incline, stayed in an Airstream alone, shared my faith more regularly, blogged more intentionally, wrote a course on leadership, navigated grief, and traveled solo often. I was bold in my exercise, my travels, my bravery, my faith, my writing, and my sharing.

From this experience are my first two tips on choosing your word of the year:

Tip #1 – Keep a brainstorming list of your potential word choices.

They can be on your phone or in a notebook. It doesn’t matter where, but I’d encourage you to write what the word is as well as where the idea came from. Was it from a conversation, book, movie? Sometimes it’s helpful to go back to those places to reference as you’re deciding on the word later.

Tip #2 – Accept in advance that your word may not come before January 1.

Do not create unnecessary pressure on yourself to have one by January 1. I realized in 2018 that my word came AFTER I accepted that I may not have a shiny new word to match the shiny new year. Give yourself grace in this area. It will come at the right time.

Then again in 2019, it came time to choose my word of the year. My faith had become more personal to me over the last year and so again I started praying God to show me what that word may be. I prayed is around 5-10 times throughout the first few weeks of December. Then, when I least exepcted it, it was clear. I was sitting on my couch in Florida reading through my Advent devotional. I read this line “I want to be so empty that the most holy thing can grow in me” and I knew. This statement took my breath away. Empty was my word. I sat in silence for a few minutes. I prayed “God, if this is my word help me understand it”. I thought about what empty looked like and I was scared. I knew it meant far less travel, margins in my finances and schedule. It looked like emptying what I’ve learned from my head to paper. I didn’t want to be empty. But I knew I needed to be.

Enter 2020 and yes, this year was empty. Empty shelves, empty calendars, arenas, and restaurants. Empty seats at the table, on flights, and in offices. This year was so empty but you know what, my love for Jesus grew. I wanted to be so empty that the most holy thing could grow in me and it did which leads me to my next 3 tips.

Tip #3: Pray over and for your word. Not just once but again and again. Allow God to move and reveal the word to you. Which then leads to the next tip.

Tip #4: Prepare space for your word to come. Get still. If you’re constantly on the move, in conversation, listening to a book or podcast, or on social media, or checking email, when in the heck do you plan to stop and listen to what God has to share with you? Find opportunities to be still, and quiet, and undistracted. Remain open so that what’s meant to be will come.

Tip #5: Ask God to help you understand what it means. When the word empty came to me, I initially thought what a weird word to have. Is that inspiring? Probably not. Is it exciting? No not really. I wasn’t really into it. And then I prayed for God to help me understand what it meant. And I realized it meant less travel. This was a huge deal for me. I’d been on 13 trips + during the last year and had plans for so many more and this was his gentle nudge of no. He was asking me to be still and it took some time, but I accepted it. Praying for his understanding of what he wanted for me from this word was important for me in accepting and pursuing it well.

Now, here we are in January of 2021. I made a list of words like I always do during the last two months of the year and my word of the year again was not on the list. I prayed for and over it, and the words on the list again just weren’t right. And again, it came through an Advent devotional. My word was came but I was afraid of it. I said “God, can I gave another one instead?” And prayed that if in fact, I needed this word, he would make it SO clear I couldn’t run from it. And He did as only He can do, and made it so clear I had to embrace it rather than retreat from it. It came up in 2-3 other readings over the next few days and again in conversation. It was my word, whether I wanted it or not.

So this year is my year of tension. To me, it sounds scary and makes me nervous. I don’t like tension. Yeah, maybe on my Peloton when I’m going up a hill with heavy music in the background, but in life as a regular thing? No thanks.

I want to share two of the places I’ve seen tension surface over the last few days. One was a daily devotional from @SheReadsTruth . The author of the writing was talking about both Genesis and some of Paul’s writings and said, “Paul perfectly articulates this tension between the glory and honor of being an image-bearer of God and being made from the gritty dust of the earth. We are both earthly and heavenly.” And then before writing this post, I was reading The Practice by Seth Godin and he said, “art doesn’t seek to create comfort, it creates change, and change requires tension.”

From these readings, I know this: I want to embrace my life on earth while still focusing on heaven. I want to live here in the now while also being aware of eternity. I don’t want to get so caught up in either that I forget about the other. I also know I do want change for 2021. I want to share things I’ve been creating, my art if you will, with others. And that in order to share and in order to change, I need to embrace the discomfort on the way there. I need to expect the tension.

I don’t know what tension will clearly look like in 2021. But I’m making the choice to show up for it and not avoid it.

Prayer: God, may you guide me into and through tension well. May you fix my eyes on the people, places, and things that require my focus during this year. Help me embrace the tension when I want to do the exact opposite. Help me lean into it and absorb it and practice the art of expecting tension as a purposeful and regular in my life. Amen.

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