For the past few years, I have joined the movement to forgo a long list of New Year’s resolutions in favor of a single word that’s my theme for the year. I pray about what to choose and I consider what I need to learn, where I need to grow. God was my word one year. Love was my focus for another. Treasure was my 2018 word.
I’ve found this practice to be more deep than my old list of goals that I never met. There really is no goal except for exploration, diving deeply into how the ideas and emotions behind a particular important word can change my life even slightly and draw me more closely into the life of Christ. Even though I choose a new word in January, I don’t throw the old word aside. I try to carry what I’ve learned into the new year as my focus shifts. In the front of each new journal, I list the words from the previous years to remind me of what is important and what I’ve learned.
I say that my focus has been on whatever word I’ve chosen for the year, but focus may actually be the wrong way to phrase it. I don’t think of the word every day. I may go weeks without consciously considering the implication of the word in my life. But I pray about the word, and I think that God is working with me on this even when I am not always aware. Even the act of choosing the word frames my mind and my attitude in a different way than if I’d just made a list of things I’d like to change. Choosing a word allows me to give myself grace without a sense of failure, because this goal isn’t just a box to check. Even when my life doesn’t exemplify whatever word I’m reaching for, I understand that this is a process. I’m more likely to reflect on if or how my life is changing, and to pray about what I’m learning.
My word for 2019 is hope. When I started thinking and praying about this year’s word, hope came to mind immediately, but I was a little skeptical. I glanced through the long lists of words other people were compiling, and I felt a little silly. Their words seemed to provide clear direction, words like resolve, magnify, humility, imagine. I could see a plan for that kind of word, all action verbs, but hope didn’t feel like an action verb. It felt like something you might do sitting near a window, staring into the clouds.
Besides, I feel like I am actually a pretty hopeful person. I’m optimistic, and I try to turn frowns upside down. I look for the good in most situations, and I can redirect sad thoughts to great future possibilities like a champ. So do I actually have anything to learn about hope? Why do I want to choose a word that I already pretty much have down?
My answer, like many answers do, came in a conversation with Joe. First Corinthians 13 says that three things remain: faith, hope, and love. Joe suggested that if Jesus is the embodiment of love, and God is faith, then the Holy Spirit is hope.
Faith grounds me in the now. It reminds me of the goodness of God, of the promises he is faithful to keep, and Jesus is the embodiment of those promises in love. But hope, as Joe pointed out, is for the future. Hope in Christ helps you keep your head up and reminds me to look forward, that this life is not all there is. The hope I have is for me, but also for everyone in the world.
I am eager to learn about hope this year, eager to learn more about the mysteries of faith, and eager to find ways to share it with others. Every person needs to feel seen and to feel hope. Sometimes those two may be the very same thing.