Updated: Dec 2, 2022
Happy New Year!
Each new year, it seems that everybody tries to reset their goals, plan their schedules, and establish new rhythms, so they can start off the new year right.
I am 100% this way. I am a natural organizer. I love hoping and dreaming about all of the possibilities a new year can bring, and I love figuring out how to make all of those hopes and dreams a reality. In the words of Hannibal, from the classic TV series The A-Team, "I love it when a plan comes together!"
But, with my desire for a new goal, a new plan, a new dream, comes the urge to pursue perfection. I am often pushed to exhaustion by my own desire to have perfect plans and rhythms.
A few years ago, a dear friend encouraged me to choose a "word of the year." The purpose of this is to set a theme or a focus for the year. Most importantly, I've found that having a word of the year has helped me simplify and frame my goals for the year in a way that actually helped me meet more of them! I have found 3 ways that choosing a word for the year has helped me in my planning and goal-setting:
1) Seeing the Bigger Picture
When I choose a word to frame my year, my focus shifts off of all the nitty-gritty details. I no longer obsess over every habit I want to form or the tasks I want to accomplish.
This happens because I am looking at the motivations behind my plans rather than plans themselves. I am taking a look at how my word of the year shapes my desires and, in turn, shapes my goals.
For example, if my word of the year is peace, I am going to look at the things in my life that are either bringing me peace or taking it away. If I discover that spending the first half-hour of my day in complete silence promotes peace in my life, then I add that rhythm to my plan. If I realize that engaging in debates on Facebook robs me of peace, then I will cultivate a discipline of limiting my social media time.
By choosing a word to frame your life for a season, you are able to see why or how your rhythms and goals are formed. Changed desires bring changed actions.
2) Deepening Your Definitions
The second thing that I have found so helpful in choosing a word for the year is that it invites you to deepen your understanding of the word. In keeping with the previous example, the word peace can be quickly defined as "the absence of conflict." This is a correct statement but doesn't quite speak to the depths of my heart or emotions.
In narrowing your focus to just one word, you are given the opportunity to go deep with that word. Dictionaries, thesauruses, and other academic tools are a great place to start. From there, I love using resources like Bible Gateway or the You Version Bible app to find all of the uses of my word in both the Old and New Testaments. I want to know how God defines the word and how that word impacted characters in the Scriptures. If you really want to go deeper into the meaning of your word, you can look up the Greek or Hebrew words that translate to your word. Using Bible commentaries and dictionaries, you can learn a lot about the original meaning of a word based on the Bible's cultural and historical context.
Whew...there is so much to be learned, even about just one word! Even if you don't go beyond Webster's definition of the word, I have found that merely having a word tunes your eyes and ears to notice that word popping up in your everyday life, from sermons to Instagram captions to everyday conversations.
3) Grounding your Prayers and Bible Studies
Lastly, I have found that by choosing a word for the year, I have a framework or a jumping-off point for my prayers and for bible studies. When I am praying on my own, I typically journal my prayers. This keeps me focused and also is something I can look back on to remember where I came from.
Once I have chosen my word for the year, I write it down in my prayer journal and talk to the Lord about it. I write out what I think it means, why I chose the word, and what Bible verses I already know that use the word. I then ask the Lord to teach me more about the word and to show me why this word is uniquely important for this season.
As the year goes on, I continue prayer journaling as I learn new meanings of the word or I experience its manifestation in my life. This is my favorite part of choosing a word. I love seeing how my understanding of a word or concept grows slowly over time and with new life experiences.
Similarly, by having a word of the year, I can more readily pick out devotional books on the topic and choose verses, chapters, and books of the Bible to study either on my own or with a group. I often like to find sermons online that focus on my word too.
Of course, this is not to say that every prayer and every Bible study I do in a year will be centered on my word, but it guides and focuses me as I pray and study Scripture.
After reading this, I hope that you will consider choosing a word of the year (or semester, or month, or even week!). It has served as a wonderful tool for me, and I have been so encouraged by how the Lord has used my word of the year to teach me, convict me, and comfort me. I pray He will do the same for you!