HAPPY almost NEW YEAR!
I hope your Advent 2017 & Christmas have been fruitful--both spiritually and in terms of fruitcake consumed. We started Advent with a Weekly Challenge on finding your Word for the Year, and as I would imagine, if you're a professional perfectionistic procrastinator like myself, you may still need to find that word. Or perhaps you did find that word but Advent + Christmas rocked your world and made you realize that you need to step it up (or take it down a notch.) Either way, there is still time! Here's an updated reflection on finding your Word for the Year! And an additional fun passage from my latest obsession: I Believe in Love.
I also believe in you,
One of the practices that I have grown to love over Advents past is to come up with a Word for the Year. Or phrase or theme, etc. This word is something that acts as an anchor, a root, a homebase for the next year. We get inundated with life, busyness, the mundane, wild twists and turns, and often forget ourselves during the course of the year... not only do we forget to take care of ourselves, or forget what we wanted out of life, but we actually forget who we are. We forget our dignity, our worth, our heritage--we are sons and daughters of God!? Oh right, I forgot.
I can't tell you what your word should be (Spoiler alert: I do offer a suggestion at the end!)... but I can tell you a little bit about my own process for choosing one. The best conversation I've heard about this is from the Abiding Together Podcast. Abiding Together is a weekly podcast hosted by Michelle Benzinger, Sr. Miriam James Heidland, and Heather Khym. [P.S. If you haven't checked out this podcast before, it's a delight! Special Thanks to Bunny for the recommendation.] Here is the particular episode about the Word for the Year:
NEW YEAR'S CHALLENGE: Discern your Word of the Year.
My word of the year for 2017 was YES or CHOOSE ALL. And I'm so glad I did!! I went on a particular journey with St. Therese this year because of that... and go figure, this year's word is very Theresian as well.
STEP ONE: Actually be quiet enough to hear the things the Lord is whispering (or more likely yelling over the noise and those pesky fingers we have in our ears.) This is the most difficult step. It means stepping away from our noise. Stepping away from avoidance. Stepping into that spiritual hoarder closet to begin unpacking...
STEP TWO: You probably already know the answer... We all tend to have something on our heart, whether it is that particular thorn in our side, that elusive personality trait we desire like "kindness" or "joyful resting face", or something as basic as trust, surrender, or patience.
STEP THREE: Make no decisions in a vacuum. Is this something you desire or something the Lord desires for you? Because I desire more wine (because my heart is so attuned to the Blessed Mother), but the Lord desires other things for me. What has been coming up in prayer? What little inklings from the Holy Spirit have confirmed this... do certain books, saints, particular prayers keep presenting themselves?
STEP FOUR: Commit to this Word. Find ways to make it part of the practice of your daily life. Are there Scriptures about this topic? Can you read more about it in the Catechism? Are there particular songs that will help draw this desire out of you? Who in your life exhibits this particular trait or virtue?
STEP FIVE: Be gentle with yourself and recommit/recalculate as necessary. Often when we have our word [be it Patience, Humility, etc.] by day two we find ourselves screaming in traffic or talking about ourselves too much and we decide FORGET THIS! It's too hard!! It's a 365 day work in progress... take your time, breathe, and start over. Life does come at us fast... so if your Word for the Year needs to change by March... that's okay too. Maybe March 2018-February 2019 you need a new Word for the Year. Just make sure you check with the Holy Spirit... He usually knows what's best.
**BONUS STEP... prefer to do things "Bible Roulette" style where you let the Holy Spirit guide you at random? Jennifer Fulwiler has got a website for you! From the coder who brought you the Saint Name Generator, she has created a new site that will generate a "Word for the Year" for you! Such a deal!!**
My Word for 2018
The word that kept coming up for me this year was LOVE. More love. Perhaps all of that Choosing All from St. Therese was making an impression. Then a dear friend recommended that I read I Believe in Love, A personal retreat based on the teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux by Father Jean C. J. D'Elbee. Now if you're like me... you have a stack of about 200 books you're planning on reading next but inevitably someone will mention something new and that stack takes a backseat immediately. This book has put everything else on hold.
While LOVE kept coming up it seemed too broad... too wispy... (too difficult)... too hippie... too simple... (too difficult)... too intangible. This book introduced the phrase that brought "more love" to life for me: EMPTY HANDS. Here's a little excerpt to explain:
In the hour of our agony, in that hour of truth, when, at the moment of our appearance before God, we perhaps review in our memory our whole life, with so many miseries and weaknesses, so many failings and falls, I hope that with contrite hearts but immense confidence we shall say to Jesus, "All this, all this I give You. Did You not come to earth to seek out my sins and take them upon Yourself? In exchange, give me the price of Your Blood, the treasures of Your Redemption, all Your merits, they are mine."
It is in this spirit that little St. Therese said, "In the evening of this life I shall appear before You with empty hands."
"It is just this--to find myself at my death with empty hands--that gives me joy, for, having nothing, I shall receive everything from God." What depth, what logic, what refinement of love there is in these words!
whoa. EMPTY HANDS. These two words. This is how I will learn to love. Let LOVE do the Loving for me.
My Word Suggestion for YOU 2018
If those 5 steps seem like too much between now and January 1st & you hate the word Jen Fulwiler's site provided for you... I'll offer you an alternative: CONFIDENCE. What does does Confidence in God look like for you in 2018? This word is always a good choice. The Gospels are full of Jesus getting aggravated with Apostles because of one thing... lack of Confidence in Him. And if we look at the less-than-stellar choices we make and those times we are robbed of our peace, 99 times out of 100, a lack of Confidence in God is at the heart. Here's another passage from I Believe in Love on Confidence in God:
Jesus was crossing the lake of Tiberias in a boat with His disciples. He was asleep in the stearn. A great windstorm blew up, and the waves poured into the boat so that it was already filled. Seized with anguish, the disciples awakened Jesus: "Lord, save us; we are perishing!" And rising up, He reprimands the wind and says to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And to His Apostles, He asks "Where is your faith?" I can hear Jesus scolding them with gentleness, but with pain, too: "Why is this? I was in the boat with you--I slept, but I was there--and you were afraid; you were terrified. You doubted either my omnipotence or my love. Do you not know after all who I am, and do you not know after all with what tenerdness my Heart watches over you continually?" It is truly such doubt that pains and offends Him most.
But you see, we have lost so completely the notion of the entire confidence that He expects of us, that we sometimes make a prayer of the words for which He reproached His Apostles: "Lord, save us; we are perishing!"
This is not how we should pray, but rather, "With You, Jesus, I cannot perish; You are always in the boat with me; what have I to fear? You may sleep; I shall not awaken You. My poor nature will tremble, oh yes! But with all my will I shall remain in peace in the midst of the storm, confident in You."
To be clear, this is not Fr. D'Elbee saying we should not ask the Lord for His help. Jesus was very clear about Asking, Seeking, and Knocking in Matthew 7. Confidence in God isn't about letting Jesus take a cat nap and us figuring life out on our own. Confidence in God is the antidote to Anxiety, Stress, and Fear. The difference between "Lord, save us we are perishing!" and "With You, Jesus, I cannot perish!" can change your life. It's subtle but powerful. When anxiety sets in--be it spiritual, professional, academic, financial, familial, or you accidently watched the evening news--pausing to pray a quick "With You, Jesus I cannot perish!" not only pleases the Lord but brings calm to the raging sea within.
To remind me of this daily, hourly, sometimes minutely prayer, I've made this image the lock screen on my phone (I'm hoping it works better than the St. Andrew Advent Novena--speaking of epic fails!):
My prayer for you this Christmas season is that you take the time to find your word. What better way to connect with THE Word made flesh?
You are the Word.
You, the creator of language, sound, syllable, font, and scribble.
Communicate your love to me. Communicate your love through me.
Help me find the words that will guide me home to heaven.
Give me the words to guide others.
Thy word, is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.