My One Word for 2017 (and a bit about how it arrives)

Can one word really represent a whole year?

Maybe as an alternative to New Year's resolutions that start fierce and fade fast, many have begun the year with a single word, phrase or theme to explore in the coming year. Of course, a good word will encompass your goals and give you a wider view for change and growth in your life.

I don't know how other people do it, but here's how it happens for me. Usually late in December, I start intentionally paying attention to an undercurrent in my life with eyes and ears to the coming year. I should say that because of a hard two years when my word was "cull", I am more in the habit of practicing this kind of paying attention all year long, but at this time I become more specific about asking God what might be next for me and my family.

This year as part of re-ordering of my days around the liturgical calendar, I backed that intention up into November. This rearranged my year to begin with Advent, the coming of Jesus, the Word in skin and bones.

I would like to try and tell you exactly how it works, but it is mysterious to me and I feel it must be unique to the asker/listener. Still, here it is as I have experienced it. I listen in the quiet and in the hustle of life. I notice what I am working on, struggling with and what God seems to be doing around me. I pray and ask God a few direct questions,

  • What do I need to learn this year?
  • What are You bringing to my family, my life and my work?
  • Where are we going this year together?
  • Is there something I need more or less of to become who you designed me to be?

Then I wait.

It is not typically a lightning bolt from the sky or even a rumbling beneath my feet. Often it is crickets at first. It can seems as though nothing is happening, as if God has not heard my prayer or has any answer for me. Oh, but He has heard me (and you) and something is happening. Someone wise and wonderful is afoot. Count on it.

You could simply choose a word to direct your year and that would work just fine. It would come out of what you want to learn or a challenge you are ready to tackle. I have often wanted to choose, words like hope, adventure or dream, happy words, and there is nothing wrong with any of those words to guide a year. For me it has been more of a wrestling, surrendering, revealing sort of action born out of my time in Holy Scripture and face lifted to the Savior.

The way I have done it, the word chooses me. More true would be to say, that it is a waiting process that involves trusting God. I ask God to choose it for me. It is a quiet process between me and God and seems to come from the relationship between us which is what I'm after. It is more of a rising to the surface like a bubble from the sea bed, one that bobs and floats without popping.

I might repeat my prayers, listen and wait some more to see if the word remains or floats away. I have even tried ignoring it. But there seems to be some sort of way it sticks like velcro or follows me like my shadow, gently and persistently.

One year for Christmas, when the Whippersnappers were young, my Daddy gave our family a game. I think it was officially called "Beanball". We called it "Velcro Heads".

The game was for two people. Each player put on a neon cap with an elastic band all around like a shower cap, but more tightly fitted to your scalp. It tied beneath the chin, squenching your face, making everyone laugh before the game even began. The cap had velcro strips with points assigned from 50 -200. Each player then had three soft balls to throw and hopefully stick to the velcro strips, scoring points.

If the players were successful, they wound up with nerf-type balls attached to their heads, funny and askew.

I found these memories in old photograph albums. That's my Daddy in the top photo and Mike with our oldest, Sean, in the bottom one.

Sometimes my word feels like a game of Velcro Heads, not that God throws words at me, remember they rise from inside more like bubbles, but in the end I have one that floats or sticks.

Three years ago, my word was "cull". It was one I tried to ignore. It wasn't pretty. It didn't tickle my ears. I even asked for a different one, because that one made me uneasy. I knew it meant "cut out" or "edit". It scared me before I even knew what it really meant for my life. Cull wound up staying for two years. You can read a bit about what I later came to call "The Cull" and then "The Beautiful Cull" here.

Last year my one word for the year was "unhurried". Starting with being in a hurry for my word, I spent the year realizing just how much I was a girl with a hurry-up heart. See how I think the word chooses me? God was asking me to slow down, breathe, listen more, pay attention more, just be with Him more. It was a year of do less and be more. It was born out of the years when cull was the word. I believe it will continue to be a word I implement in my life. You can read about "unhurried" here.

The one word for 2017 that seems to have stuck for me is "canvas". I cannot know all that word will mean in my life just yet. That is not how the process works to fully know ahead of time, but I started by getting a working definition from the dictionary.

can*vas: (noun) a closely woven, durable cloth of linen, cotton or hemp used for sturdy purposes such as sails, tents, tarps or awnings; a double warp cloth, usually water-resistant, made to withstand pressure and rough uses; a lighter single warp version used for paintings or embroidery stitches

Already I can see I made an assumption that it was the noun version of the word. (That is how I saw it in my mind's eye with a single "s".) But I leave room for it to be the verb as usually my words are. I suppose it could even a bit of both.

can*vass: (verb) to survey or solicit as in votes or opinions; to investigate or examine carefully; discuss, debate; to explore; to shake out or sift through a canvas; to determine feelings

There it is. It will be exciting to see what unfolds in this year 2017 of canvas/canvass. Whatever else it is, it should be creative, plain woven and sturdy. One thing I know, that God will be with me as I discover its meaning in my life. Even if it turns out to be scary or painful, God is faithful, merciful and near. And good comes at some point as it did even in the The Beautiful Cull.

That is part of the mystery around getting the word in the first place, that I don't choose it. It chooses me. I receive it. I accept it. In the way "we love because God first loved us". And then to my great delight, I don't do it alone. We live it together.

If you're like me, a fan of behind-the-scene looks at how things are made, then maybe I can write to you each month about how my one word is being lived out. In that way, we can journey together seeing how God uses a single word in a single life.

However you receive yours, I'd love to hear what your one word or phrase might be, if you have it yet. If not, be patient. These things cannot be hurried, says the girl with the hurry-up heart.