The Words of 2021
Modified Journal Entry from 12/31/21
Entering a new calendar year often comes with a sense of renewed ambition for personal growth and change. As I have gotten older and have come to appreciate the seasonality of life, I have loved being able to set specific intentions during certain seasons. This past year, 2021, was the first year that I decided to select “word(s) of the year” as a means for refocusing and growing. Similar to making a new years resolution, selecting words for the year provided me with a means to live with greater intentionality, but with a focus on my interior life rather than on any of the external aspects of my life. My inspiration for integrating this practice into my life came from my favorite podcast, the Abiding Together podcast, with Sr. Miriam James Heidland.
I can say that without a doubt this was one of the most fruitful spiritual practices I have ever engaged in. I attribute the fruitfulness of this practice to the fact that I am a “feeler”; my first response to events or situations tends to be an emotional response, which is then followed by logical rationalization: heart first, head second. Because I feel very deeply and can have anxious tendencies, it can be easy for me to “forget” (amidst my strong emotions) so many of the foundational truths of my God and my faith when things aren’t going well or I am in a state of confusion. It can be difficult for me to proclaim truths in a rational manner (“God uses all things for good for those who love him!” Romans 8:28) when I am experiencing a significant amount of challenging emotions (“I don’t know why this happened! I don’t know what to do!”). Therefore, having words of the year that I could constantly call-to-mind was an incredibly powerful way for me to immediately refocus, become grounded in truth, and counteract some of my unhelpful thought processes.
The words I selected for 2021 were REST and RECEIVE. I feel deeply convicted that the Holy Spirit helped guide my heart and mind when I selected these words, because these were exactly the words I needed as my anthem during this season of life. These words, “rest” as a loving command from God, and “receive” as a childlike posture towards God, were necessary instruments through which I could un-learn some of the false beliefs I had internalized about who God is and about where my value comes from. For a lot of my life, I held the idea that I needed to “do everything right”, in order to find favor with God. Because of this performance-based mindset, it had become ingrained in me that, through my actions, I needed to earn God’s love and prove myself to be worthy of all the good things life has to offer. I have now come to see that this is a very wounded view of God. This perspective kept me in a constant state of anxiety, hyper-introspection, self-reliance, fear of failure, and scrupulosity. It caused me to have impossibly high expectations of myself, meaning that I was constantly left feeling like I was never good enough. It will come as no surprise then that my spiritual and mental health suffered, and I was utterly unable to live in freedom. Though I had been attempting to dismantle these false beliefs over the past few years, their roots ran very deep. With the words rest and receive as focal points this past year, I was given the opportunity to reground myself in the truths of who God is, and what He actually desires for me, in a way that I had been unable to before:
By hearing God speak the word “rest” over me throughout this year, I was reminded that I didn’t need to earn His love, or earn my value. As I alluded to earlier, it is easy for me to put a lot of pressure on myself, with the underlying feeling that I need to prove myself. It has been easy for me to fall into the trap of assessing my value/worth (or even my goodness), on my academic or work successes, which has frequently caused me to overwork myself. Rejecting these lies, and unlearning these habits has required that I speak truth over these areas of my life and my identity. By asking me to rest, I could finally believe in my heart that God desired that I stop restlessly exhausting myself and that it was good for me to slow down. I wasn’t being lazy or selfish by caring for myself, identifying my needs, and honoring my own capacity. There needs to be a healthy balance of work and rest/play in order for us to flourish.
We see in the story of creation God desires us to rest, as He models this practice for us as a way to order our lives properly (Genesis 2:2-3). Through this recognition, I could finally give myself permission to focus on myself, rather than on earning the next accomplishment. Regrounding myself came with the realization that my value is not determined by my productivity or my efficiency or my accomplishments, but in my identity as a beloved daughter of God. A daughter with gifts, talents, and dignity, made in the image of God. This was something I knew on the surface, but had not allowed to sink into the depths of my heart. We are not loved because of what we can do, but because of who we are. God loves me just as much with a graduate degree as he would if I had no degrees at all (provided I used my gifts and talents in a way that glorified Him). Just like how parents don’t think babies are less valuable or loved because they are not able to “do” much, we don’t have to do anything in particular to be a person with value or to have access to God’s love; it is inherent in our human nature. I was not made to overwork myself and to be exhausted by the expectations of the academic and working world; I was made to laugh, play, and be in relationship with others! School and work are valuable, God-given gifts to help us make our world a better place, but we must have a healthy relationship with them and not find our self-worth and fulfillment in them. We will certainly be disappointed or utterly exhausted if we do. And this is precisely the story of Martha and Mary, where Jesus reminds us that just being with Him is more valuable than operating in a mode of anxious self-sufficiency (Luke 10:38-42). How lovely it is that the God of the universe delights in us for just existing with Him, and delights in us resting
My tendencies to be restless (and thus my need for rest) are closely associated with my tendencies to grasp (and thus my need to receive). Mediating on this word throughout the year helped me immensely in rejecting the lie that I needed to earn the goodness in my life, including God's love, by my own human efforts. It additionally helped me to heal my wounded relationship with God by re-orienting the way I interact with Him.
At one point during the year, I came to the realization that I rarely asked God for things that I desired. You can imagine my surprise at myself when I realized this, as petitioning God is often seen as a main component of prayer! Somewhere along the way, I had lost my childlike practice of bringing my desires to the Lord with an open heart. I subconsciously thought “God is probably not going to fulfill this in the way that I am expecting, so there’s no reason to ask for it”. I thought I was having an open heart, trying to not get too fixated on my own ideas/plans, but in reality I was lacking in trust that God could provide for me. O ye of little faith! How sad that I would not even invite the Lord into these parts of my heart! By failing to share my heart, I was diminishing petitionary prayer to something transactional (like exchanging goods for some sort of investment), rather than something relational (something that could draw two persons in closer communion with one another). I could be tempted to continue dwelling on this disordered mindset and pointing out the ways in which I have fallen short, but I know that this lack of trust was rooted in a place of woundedness. Because of some areas of past sinfulness in my life, I had grown to distrust myself. I did not trust that my feelings/desires were good, and that they could direct me to a happy and holy life. This is how I began to minimize and reject my desires as something not worth bringing to the Lord. If I wasn’t even able to acknowledge my own emotions and desires as something valid and beautiful, how could I have possibly brought them to God and acknowledge that He thought they were beautiful? All this to say that I did not know how to do a good job at asking God for things, so I ended up just trying to earn my happiness instead with my feeble human efforts.
By focusing on RECEIVING this year, I could now approach God with hands out in front of me, in the posture of a beggar. Rather than grasping at what I thought might be the means of my fulfillment in life, I could leave it in the hands of God, and trust that He would fulfill the deepest desires of my heart at the appointed time. Every good thing we have here on this earth is a gift from God; another way to say this is that God’s Will is happening all around us, because He permitted everything that we experience to occur. This is not to say that our actions are not important – we are certainly called to invest our time and energy wisely, exercise our free will, collaborate with God, and make decisions that enable us to grow in virtue and progress in life. But by thinking I could earn everything on my own (even virtue, even salvation) I undermined God’s power, mercy, generosity, and love, and made myself into a false god. Here we see how fear and pride had taken root in my life: I did not believe or have hope that what God had for me was sufficient, and I was scared that my needs would not be met. This is what caused me to live in a state of disordered self-sufficiency.
Now I know that when we ask God for our Daily Bread in the Lord's Prayer, we are asking Him to give us everything we need. Having grown deeply in my devotion to the Eucharist, I understand now how deeply the Lord wishes to be our strength, our sustenance. All we must ask for and desire is that strength to make it through what we are experiencing in the present moment, in that day alone; that is enough. We should not worry about the future, we must receive all of what God has for us today: this is our Daily Bread. God knows us infinitely better than we know ourselves, and when we acknowledge this truth, we can approach life with greater acceptance of our circumstances, recognizing that each blessing or obstacle along the way is an opportunity for growth. Intentionally re-asserting that I receive all things from God, and intentionally asking Him to allow me to receive from Him was transformative for me this last year. I have been so much more cognizant of the ways in which God is providing for me in my daily life, which then easily translates into gratitude – a foundationally important part of the Chiristian life, and incredibly beneficial for mental health. When we take on this posture of receptivity and recognize that God wants to shower us with blessings, we can put God and ourselves in their proper places, and live in the abundance that God has for us.
I know that God is abundantly generous and that he wants to fulfill the deepest desires of our hearts (our desires to be seen, known, loved, and cared for). He is a good God that rejoices when we rejoice, and wants to see us flourish. If we could only trust Him rather than clinging to our own ideas of how we can engineer our happiness and fulfillment, I do believe with all my heart that His plan will be so much more beautiful than ours. The King paints beauty with Time! I have truly been astounded by the extravagant ways that God has allowed me to rest, and the providential gifts he has allowed me to receive this last year. I know I will continue learning about how to rest well and receive from God throughout my life, but I am so grateful to have been able to encounter the Lord so tangibly through these words this year. I can’t wait to see what will come up through 2022’s words: COURAGE, and CONFIDENCE in God!