Every January, I select a word to symbolize the new year- what I want to improve, to change, to become. Choosing a word helps me focus. I consider both where I am lacking and where God is stretching me. The word is more than what I want to accomplish- it embodies who I want to become. I prayerfully sit with different words simultaneously, until one takes hold of me. Then all year long, I reflect on that word and try to live up to it, to apply it to my life.
This year I didn’t want to pick a word. I’m tired of failing.
Last year my word was PRAY. I wanted my life to be characterized by prayer. I was hoping to pray more, pray about everything, and specifically pray for the people I cared about. At first, I was ever mindful of prayer. I made an extensive prayer list for my friends. And for a while, I got up an hour earlier just to pray for them. A while being defined as exactly one week. Afterwards, I’d allot 15 extra minutes to pray for this list. Sometimes it was down to 5 minutes. Lately I’ve been glancing at the list on the run.
The previous two years, I picked the same word, ENCOURAGE. The first year, I often found myself in the middle of conversations, realizing I hadn’t said anything encouraging at all. Unless I counted, “Glad you’re finally seeing things my way” or “You have a flair for stating the obvious.” Clearly, I’m a little too fond of sarcasm. So I focused on the same word a second year, hoping to see dramatic change. It didn’t happen that year either but I was too ashamed to choose the same word yet again. I had so wanted to encourage my precious daughters, who often hear what’s left undone, without acknowledgement of all that’s been done. They needed to know their efforts were valued. Over the two years, I did see improvement, but I fell far short of my ideal.
Several years ago, when I first stumbled upon this idea of one word, I felt empowered. It was just one word, which was easy to remember, even for me. And I loved choosing the word and reflecting back on it; my main frustration was my lack of consistency.
As I was obsessing about various things, including my past failures, my struggle in choosing a word, and my desire to write a profound New Year’s post, I decided to surf the web. Maybe someone else could solve my problems. Encouragement came from an unlikely source: The Huffington Post. They cited a study by Dr. John Norcross, an expert on New Year’s resolutions. He compared people who wanted to change their behavior and made a resolution to do so with others who also wanted to make changes but made no formal resolutions. Six months later, 40% of the resolvers were making progress compared to 4% of those who didn’t make a formal resolution. According to Norcross, “If you make the shift from wanting to trying, you're 10 times more likely to succeed.”
The study makes me feel better. I see that it is helpful to formalize a goal and work towards it. That way, I’m much more likely to see progress. But I need to put the emphasis on trying. Even if I can’t live up to my chosen word, I have to keep pressing forward.
I’ve got to remember that I am I better than I was, even in the smallest way. Though I’m not where I’d like to be, I’m headed in the right direction. So when I’m discouraged about how far I’ve fallen short, I need to recognize how far I’ve come.
Real change is slow, incremental, often imperceptible.
When I reframed my expectations, I was excited about choosing a word again. In light of this post and the last, I first chose ACCEPT. But ACCEPT alone carried with it a sense of resignation, so I added an adjective: JOYFULLY ACCEPT. Joyfully accept others for who they are, without expectations. Joyfully accept I am a work in progress. Joyfully accept I will fail but resolve to keep persevering. And joyfully accept what God has given me, without complaint.
As I acknowledge my own shortcomings, I am aware that that I cannot change myself. I cannot JOYFULLY ACCEPT anything on my own. It is a work of God’s Spirit. He alone can transform me. He can bring my word to mind and He will produce all the change. In His time. At His pace. As Zechariah 4:6 says, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”
I need to remember that change is a slow process. As Martin Luther said:
This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.