Have you noticed or possibly even embraced this trend of having a “word” for your year? At some point during the first couple of weeks in January, individuals use their social media accounts to announce a word for the year. This word is usually positive, uplifting, or optimistic in nature. The word might be selected because it appears to that person frequently and therefore must be significant. Other times the word is assigned as the result of a clickbait Facebook quiz, appropriately titled, “What is YOUR WORD for 2018?”
The word, once selected, is usually made public. The intention is for this word to act as a masthead or banner which proclaims the owner’s motivation for the following year. If not announced, it may instead be kept in secret much like a pocket cross or worry stone, tucked away close to the owner for comfort and remembrance.
Although I am a person who is fascinated by words, I have never had a word of the year. One single word has never assigned itself to me, and I have not sought out a word for its potential for guidance. It never bothered me (much) because I am typically found drowning in my own words, whether it is telling other people what I think they should do or thinking about what to write or say in a way that will resonate to my audience. Choosing a single, random, possibly insignificant word to steer my thoughts and actions was just not on my to-do list.
This year’s word revelation started as in years’ past. I noticed, with my usual bemusement (and perhaps a small amount of contempt for this practice), my friends had begun announcing their words of 2018. (I think even Pastor Curtis mentioned having a word!)
In typical procrastinator’s fashion, my word for 2018 and my very first word of the year didn’t find me until February. God has been working diligently in this one specific area of my faith over the last few years by revealing opportunities for me to practice this behavior.
My word of 2018 is… obedience.
That’s not overwhelmingly pretty, positive, affirming, uplifting, optimistic, or meme-worthy in the least!
Obedience is what I require of my children, what I desire in our pets, and what I mostly do when it comes to speed limits. And God, I AM obedient! I do (mostly) what you want me to do. I go to church, I volunteer when I have time, I even read my Bible at least 3 or 4 times during the week.
Isn’t that what you mean by obedience, Lord? Jesus, I follow you and devote myself to what you call me to do, especially when I really like what you have planned for me. I am particularly obedient to the parts of your Word that support my opinion and view of the world around me. And I’m truly coming around to the whole “love your neighbor” thing.
So maybe obedience is the perfect word for me in 2018!
In the spring and early summer of 2017, we studied the lasting and devastating effects of disobedience through the books of the minor prophets in our summer Bible study, Foretellers: Learn and Live. The lessons we learned have had a lasting effect on me, nudging my brain into remembrance on a regular basis like a worry stone in my pocket.
One was in Joel 2:12-13, when the prophet reveals the Lord’s instruction: “‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and he relents over disaster.”
Garments can easily be torn, repaired, then torn and repaired again. Hard things, once broken, are never quite the same. Somewhere between childhood and my early thirties, my heart had become quite crystallized against struggle and suffering. Instead of compassion, there was condemnation and judgment. I waited impatiently for the people and the world around me to change so that I could love them well, not realizing that it was my heart that needed to relent.
It took a catastrophic flood and a city underwater for me to realize how hardened my heart had become. Newspaper articles printed in the weeks following Hurricane Harvey revealed how the poor and undocumented residents of Houston and the surrounding areas were still living in heavily damaged homes covered in dangerous mold. Many were, and still are, suffering from unemployment due to loss of transportation, as well as health issues from their living conditions. Government help was unavailable to these families due to legal status, and securing private significant help seemed like a way to invite attention, so many remained in this state of destruction. Children were displaced from their homes and unable to return to school, slipping behind and through the cracks left by the floodwater. This happened all across our region as many of us returned to our jobs and our children returned to clean schools and homes.
My heart hurting, I talked to a friend about this situation and her response shocked me: “They don’t belong here.”
My heart broke. For the victims of the flood, yes, completely. But it further broke more for my friend’s hardened heart, and for my own. For the years of criticism and judgment, for the callousness I had developed, and then for the joy in repentance that followed.
Deuteronomy 10:12-13, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?”
The heading for this section in Deuteronomy is “Circumcise Your Heart.” The call is for the Israelites to return to obedience, to return to circumcision of the flesh as well as of the heart as a sign of their covenant with God. Our covenant is marked with the blood of Christ, yet our hearts still need circumcision.
So what has obedience looked like for me as I carry it in my pocket and proclaim it from my mouth? What does it look like for me as my word of 2018?
So far, it has meant fasting, or saying no to activities that are leading me away from God’s plan for my life. It has meant constant repentance, apologizing to people I have wronged, and encouraging reconciliation instead of condemnation. It has meant mourning, weeping, and then thanking God for his goodness in the next breath. And it has meant continuing to return to God, the author of my salvation and King of my broken heart.
1 Kings 8:57-58 (CSB) May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors. May he not abandon us or leave us so that he causes us to be devoted to him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commands, statutes, and ordinances, which he commanded our ancestors.
God, break and restore my heart. Expose and cut out the disobedience that keeps me from loving like You love. Amen.