Every January, I choose a word or phrase to symbolize what I want to focus on for the coming year. As I was considering which word to choose, I kept coming back to the card in my office, calligraphed with 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
‘Love’ seemed like the perfect word for 2019, but I quickly discovered that since I fall short in every aspect, I’d do better if I concentrated on a subset of love. I remembered a speaker who said the best way to love people is to remember them as their best selves. That means not dwelling on the things they’ve done wrong but rather focusing on what they’ve done right. Rehearsing their strengths rather than their faults. Remembering the times they have shown up for me and the times they have been kind and thoughtful rather than when they’ve wounded me.
In short, one way to love people is to overlook their offenses. So that is one reason I chose overlook as my word for 2019.
Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Notice that when we deliberately overlook an offense, we are acknowledging there was an offense. We don’t need to pretend the offense didn’t exist. But after we acknowledge it, what do we do?
My first response is often to hold a grudge, replaying and rehearsing the offense, and then recollecting all the thoughtless things that person has said or done to me. And with strangers, it’s letting small things annoy me. Like when I glared at the person who cut in front of me at the pharmacy line, pretending she had a quick question and then checking out with 50 items instead. Or when I got mad when the neighbor’s party had cars blocking my driveway, so I couldn’t pull out. Not that I was going anywhere, but what if I was? Or maybe when I was resentful for months when I a friend didn’t seem grateful when I’d gone out of my way for her. Did I mention I can be petty?
Of course, not all offenses are minor. Sometimes I need to courageously respond to fix a wrongdoing, but I can be slow to anger. When someone has intentionally hurt me, though my response doesn’t need to be immediate, I can still choose to forgive. But most of the time, the things that bother me are inconsequential; I can simply overlook them, choosing not to dwell on them.
I once heard a story about two monks who were walking together when they came across a wealthy, young woman who was trying to cross a large mud puddle. The older monk picked up the woman and carried her across the puddle, placing her safely on the other side. The woman said not a word of thanks.
The monks walked back to the monastery in silence, but hours later, as they neared their destination, the younger one said to the older, “I still can’t believe she didn’t thank you. That woman was so ungrateful.”
The older monk responded, “I put her down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”
When I overlook, I release resentments that I don’t need to be carrying. I know this will bring freedom, but it doesn’t automatically happen. Three things that have been helpful when I’m tempted to reach for bitterness are: First, asking God to intervene and change my heart. Second, asking God to remind me of the times that I have done almost the same thing to others yet have received mercy and grace. And third, remembering that God has brought this offense into my life for my good, to teach me something. When I don’t do those things, overlooking can deteriorate into simply stuffing negative feelings.
In 2019, I also want to be willing to be overlooked. I don’t want to be consumed with my own needs and my own glory, making myself the center of attention. I want to make God’s name great, not my own, so I want to take the low seat and be okay with being overlooked.
I realize that simply choosing a word for the year will not transform my attitude; most years I notice little change. Real change is slow and gradual. I’m grateful that God is patient, changing me by degrees over time, even when I am after instant results.
At the same time, I often forget about my word as the year progresses, so I have no idea if it is impacting my life. Last year I made a card with my word on it and prayed about it in my quiet time when I reviewed my prayer cards. I looked back at the previous day and asked the Lord to show me when I failed to “agree” when I could have.
I know that the Spirit alone brings lasting change, but I can cooperate with the Spirit’s work through prayer, awareness and repentance. The practice of daily confession and repentance, ignited by looking back at the prior day, has been remaking me. I’ll share about it more in a future post.
Do you have a word for the year? What do you do with it? I’d love to hear in the comments.