Going into each new year, I like to pick a Word of the Year. This word of the year is my theme for the upcoming year and signifies an area where the Lord is directing my focus in order to grow me spiritually. This practice has proven to be far more effective than making any well-intended yet short-lived New Year’s resolutions.
For the year 2017, I was hoping for a strong word such as COURAGEOUS or FEARLESS. It didn’t happen. Instead, the Holy Spirit kept impressing a word on me that I was not so eager to claim: THANKFUL.
Umm, can we have a redo?
The word "thankful" seemed too vanilla and boring to me. I pretty much told the Lord, “Any word but that word!”
Certain that I had gotten it wrong, I persisted in prayer and hoped that a new word would soon emerge. But, nothing else came. It took me weeks to accept that, like it or not, thankful was indeed the Lord’s intended word for me for 2017.
Choosing the verse to accompany my new word was much easier than claiming the word itself. The Lord started sowing the verse, "Give thanks in all circumstances," into my heart months before when I read The Hiding Place, a biography written by Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom. It is a book of unflinching faith in the face of extreme adversity. And, tucked within its pages is a story of the transforming power of thankfulness that Corrie learned from her sister Betsie:
It will be better, everyone assured everyone else, when we move into permanent barracks. We’ll have a blanket apiece. A bed of our own. Each of us painted into the picture her own greatest need.
The move to permanent quarters came the second week in October. Betsie and I followed a prisoner-guide through the door at the right. Our noses told us, first, that the place was filthy: somewhere plumbing had backed up, the bedding was soiled and rancid. Then, as our eyes adjusted to the gloom, we saw that there were no individual beds at all, but great square piers stacked three high, and wedged side by side.
At last she pointed to a second tier in the center of a large block. To reach it we had to stand on the bottom level, haul ourselves up, and then crawl across three other straw-covered platforms to reach the one that we would share with – how many? The deck above us was too close to let us sit up. We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw.
Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.
“Fleas!” I cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them!”
We scrambled across the intervening platforms and edged our way to a patch of light.
“Here! And here another one!” I wailed. “Betsie, how can we live in such a place?”
“Show us. Show us how.” It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.
“Corrie!” she said excitedly. “He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!”
I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. “It was First Thessalonians,” I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen. In the feeble light I turned the pages. “Here it is…‘Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus – ‘”
“That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!”
I stared at her, then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.
“Such as?” I said.
“Such as being assigned here together.”
I bit my lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!”
“Such as what you’re holding in your hands.”
I looked down at the Bible. “Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all the women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.”
“Yes,” said Betsie. “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re placed so close, that many more will hear!” She looked at me expectantly. “Corrie!” she prodded.
“Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds.”
“Thank You,” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas and for – “
The fleas! This was too much. “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
“’Give thanks in all circumstances,’” she quoted. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”
And so we stood between piers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.
Like Corrie, I often imagine a better life ahead. I paint a picture where my greatest needs are met, desires are fulfilled, and life is comfortable and happy. I say, "It will be better when..." And, when that doesn’t happen, I wallow in depression. I get anxious. I fear the unknown. I feel weary. I focus too intently on the fleas, the minor nuisances, and magnify them in my mind.
Worst of all, I never thank God for any of it. None. What would be the reason?
Yet, there I was with perhaps one of the hardest verses in the Bible to live out, “Give thanks in ALL circumstances,” as my verse for 2017.
"Why that word? Why that verse? Why?"
Yet, I knew why. The Lord wanted to cultivate in me a spirit of thankfulness. And, if that’s what He desired for me, I could trust that there was a good reason for it.
Being a born procrastinator, I wanted to put off the task. But, very quickly into the New Year, the Lord decided it was time for us to get busy. It started with my middle child. His health history is long. Our journey with this child has been a decade in the making and not one stage has been easy. I have lamented SO MANY times to the Lord and begged Him to make my job as his mother easier. Anxieties and worries consumed me. But, instead of listening to my lamenting, the Lord began to say, “Tell me 3 things you are thankful for right now.”
What I really wanted to do was continue on with my whine, let my imagination about the “what if’s” run wild, and shout, “Help me Lord!!”
Yet, the Lord wanted me to give thanks instead.
Like Corrie, I would squabble with Him at first. But, ever so slowly, it would happen. I would push pause on my anxious thoughts and search for something positive in the whole situation. With diligent focus, something good would start to come into view.
“Oh, yes, Lord, thank you for ___________.”
“Oh, and thank you for ___________.”
Sometimes I listed three things. Sometimes five. Sometimes seven.
Here’s what happened: my mindset shifted. My mood shifted. My attitude shifted. My worries became praises. My moans and groans became intelligible words of life. Worry turned to hope.
The same thing happened with my older son. He was struggling to make new friends in his new school. My heart has never been so burdened for him! It produced an anxious spirit within me that kept me up at night. I silently transposed my own childhood fears of rejection onto him which proved to be a surefire way to crank my anxiety up even higher.
“Thank me,” the Spirit would whisper.
And, pushing pause on my anxiety, I would do just that:
“Thank you Lord that you are a man well-acquainted with rejection for you know how he feels.” Isaiah 53:3
“Thank you Lord for the one friend that he has at school. He would be so lonely without her.”
“Thank you Lord that he doesn’t sit alone at lunchtime.”
Was this easy? No. My heart cried while my tongue thanked. But, wrapped up in my thanksgiving was peace in knowing that my burdens were safe at my Savior’s feet. Having placed them there, I could begin to see all the ways that the Lord was working in that situation. By faith, I believed that He would weave it into a greater good. And, He has.
These two situations have continued to come up throughout this past year along with some others. Each time, with a racing heart and anxious “what-ifs” bubbling to the surface of my mind, I have begun to go into autopilot and start my thanksgiving.
And, do you know what? My anxieties are gone!
This discipline has taught me that the antidote for anxiety is thanksgiving! An anxious mind cannot co-exist with a thankful heart. It’s as if you have to flip the anxious switch off in order to flip the thanksgiving switch on. What a discovery!
Corrie and Betsie’s story goes on to tell us what happened in those flea-infested barracks:
Betsie and I made our way to the rear of the dormitory room where we held our worship “service.” There were services like no others. Betsie or I would open the Bible. Because only the Hollanders could understand the Dutch text, we would translate aloud in German. And then we would hear the life-giving words passed back along the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, back into Dutch. There were little previews of heaven, these evenings beneath the lightbulb. I would know again that in darkness God’s truth shines most clear.
At first Betsie and I called these meetings with great timidity. But as night after night went by and no guard ever came near us, we grew bolder. So many now wanted to join us that we held a second service after evening roll call. There on the Lagerstrasse we were under rigid surveillance, guards in their warm wool capes marching constantly up and down. Yet in the large dormitory room there was almost no supervision at all. We did not understand it.
Over one thousand women crammed into that tight, putrid space where the Gospel was shared night after night in six different languages. All of this was done with no disruption whatsoever from the ever-watchful eyes of the Nazi guards. They never stepped foot in there. But why?
Because of the fleas.
Corrie and Betsie later found out that the guards wouldn’t come into their dormitory because “that place is crawling with fleas!’”
And, to think that Corrie was sure the fleas had no good purpose. Imagine if she had refused to be thankful for them?
Why do we have to walk through difficult circumstances? Why has this past year been hard? This past week? Today? I don’t know why. But, I can say this…the fleas have a purpose. Each one can draw us closer to the Lord. He wouldn’t allow them if it weren’t so.
The question is, are you thanking Him for them?
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Corinthians 4:17
You can thank the Lord for your light and momentary troubles. And, you can thank Him for them tomorrow. And, the next day. And the next. Day after day you can thank Him until thanksgiving is an automatic response that spontaneously erupts from your lips. Your anxieties will eventually give way to your thankfulness.
No, your troubles may not change. But, I can guarantee that the way you look at them and respond to them will.
First, I am a child of God. And, like a child, I am always learning and growing. The more I know Him, the more I love Him. Second, I am a wife to a good man. Missions is his thing while teaching women to love God’s Word is mine. Third, I am a mama to three plus a sweet cockapoo who thinks he’s #4. My children are my ongoing sanctification. Fourth, I am a passionate advocate of all things healthy & natural and a dreamer/designer. Old friends call me Becky, newer ones call me Rebecca, and the most intimate ones call me Beck. You can just call me friend.
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Over 500,000 words! Can you imagine? I have enough trouble stringing 500 words together no less 500,000! Yet that's what J.R.R. Tolkien achieved when he penned the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Nestled among those 500,00 words is the famous quote: "One ring to rule them all." However, we don't need one ring. We just need one word. One word to rule all our other words to impact an entire year positively!
For the past decade, I’ve chosen one word to help me know when to say, “Yes!” and when to say, “No.” With the new year right around the corner, I’d love to share how you can positively shape your entire year with just one word.
Why I have a Word of the Year or WOTY
1. FOCUS - A Word of the Year or WOTY brings goals and dreams into focus. It’s like the proverbial “carrot in front of the donkey's nose” image. The WOTY gives me focus, so I can keep moving forward productively. It helps me focus:
- my time - With all the opportunities out there, my WOTY helps me stay in my lane doing what I was created to do.
- my drive - if an opportunity is a “Yes!”, I’m able to devote the time needed to do it well.
-my growth - My WOTY stretches me in ways I wouldn’t normally grow. When I choose opportunities which line up with my WOTY, I usually say “Yes!” to new opportunities and “No.” to things that are comfortable and easy.
2. FILTER - Just like a filter keeps debris from muddying our drinking water, my WOTY allows me to evaluate if given opportunities are best for me. My WOTY:
- creates margin - Confidently saying “Thank you, but no.” creates more downtime.
- cancels regrets - when I look back at my year, I have few regrets because I’ve accomplished what was put before me.
How I Choose my Word of the Year or WOTY
1. Ponder - Starting in October or November, I start pondering and praying about my WOTY for the following year. I keep a running list of words that seem to keep repeating themselves in my reading, talking, and meditating. I then prayerfully sift through them until the right one resonates in my being.
2. Passage - When I finally have peace about the one word, I start praying for a passage of Scripture to use as my focal verse of the year. I explore any and all verses which have my WOTY in them. I slowly sift through them to find the one which perfectly pictures it. When the passage finally comes to light, I know it will guide me well through the year.
3. Product - A decade ago, one of my mentors informed me I needed to learn how to love others well. Hmmph! When I got over my offended self, loving others well became my mission. Therefore, my very first word of the year was “Love” to help me focus on loving the Lord, my man, my children, and others well. A friend gave me a stone placard engraved with the word “love." It received a place of honor in my kitchen where I could easily see it. A tradition was birthed. Each year I purpose to find a product with my WOTY on it.
4. Permission - Accountability keeps us honest and humble. I like to share my WOTY with others. This gives them permission to check in with me to see how my day, week, or month has been in line with my word.
How I use my Word of the Year or WOTY :
1. My WOTY from 2017 - “Generous”
2. My WOTY Scripture - “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” 2 Corinthians 9:11
3. My WOTY Visual - I ordered a Scripture shirt from Rebecca's in-home business Impress Them. Every time I wear it, I am reminded of my WOTY and corresponding verse for the year! I love it!
4. My WOTY Accountability Partners - This year it “accidentally” was the “By Faith She” girls. It might have even been the first time we started dreaming of starting this blog.
5. My WOTY Focus and Filter - When an opportunity arises, I pray, “How does this fit with being generous?” If it keeps things in my life in balance - God, my man, my children, my ministries - then I say, “Yes!” If not, then I say, “No.”
I’m so thankful for the focus and filter a WOTY gives me.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, for the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16
How about you? Do you have a Word of the Year? How do you go about choosing one? I'd love to hear!
If you want to find a WOTY for yourself, I've created a download to help you walk thru the process. Sign up for our email list, and we'll be happy to email it to you.
Jesus Girl. Wife. Momma. Student. Teacher. Confidante. Lover of milky coffee, dark chocolate, deep talks, lively laughter, and a front row seat on the beach at sunrise.