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A Peculiar Providence: My "Word-for-the-Year 2020" in Retrospect

It was one of those moments when your thoughts coalesce, and you utter a nervous laugh, realizing you’ve just witnessed a peculiar providence.

I’d been reviewing this last year in preparation to meet with my spiritual director. I’d also done some reflection on my Word-for-the-Year 2020: Serenity. How ironic, right!? This year has been anything but serene. I chose it because I’d been thinking about the Serenity Prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change,” aware of the need to grow capacity to accept the unchangeable. Little did I know what was around the corner and how serenity would be a peculiar providence for me.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the buzz about choosing a word for the year and maybe wondered, “What’s the big deal?” “Why is choosing a word helpful, or necessary, or even meaningful?” The best way I can describe it is to tell you how it’s helped me.

The first thing that comes to mind is how the word grounds me. I created a collage for my word on New Year’s Day. It hangs to the left of my bathroom mirror so that every time I brush my teeth, I see it and am reminded of it. Of course I don’t notice it every time. Yet I can call the collage to mind right now. It’s etched in my memory and grounds me as I remember the word serenity.

On several occasions this last year I received the word as an invitation. I would pray the serenity prayer when I felt discombobulated, jittery, and uncertain. I’d write about it in my journal and bring it into times of prayer with God as I wrestled with the things I couldn’t control; things that frightened and frustrated me. The word invited me to relax my grip, to let go of what I was trying to hold onto in and with my body.

The word offered guidance, as if it were a star in the sky by which I could navigate my journey. When I lacked serenity, I knew that something was off—that I was off course. I would recall my word, set it just above the horizon of life and it would give me the light I needed to return to a place of peace. It helped me recognize the difference between things I can’t change and things I can. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change; courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

I often marvel at the uncanny and synchronistic nature of my word for the year, and this year is by no means an exception! While I can’t fully anticipate what any year will bring, and certainly that’s an understatement for 2020, I’m graced by the sense that God knows. The word became a slender thread in my life story, stitching the parts of this tumultuous year together, and allowing me to see that there is Someone deeply woven into the warp and woof of history, my history, and the unfolding of a year.

In a way, I feel as though the word serenity “chose me.” It asked to be kept tucked in my back pocket and pulled out as a timely invitation, a gentle guide, a peculiar providence because I would need serenity in the days ahead, days that were unknown, unpredictable, and hard.

So, now that I’ve reflected on serenity as my Word-for-the-Year 2020, I have also begun listening for a new word. I’ve got a good idea, a few options that resonate within me. If you’re inclined to give this somewhat faddish New Year’s practice a try, here are a few questions to help you hone your Word-for-the-Year 2021:

1. Have you noticed being drawn to any particular words that have a “shimmering” quality? Something about the word is attractive, curious, or enlivening?

2. If you were to choose a word that describes your “growing edge,” a capacity that you need to grow, what word would you choose?

3. How about any recurring themes? Do you keep “bumping into” a particular word when you’re reading, listening to a podcast, or in a conversation with a friend?

If you land on something, let me know! I’d love to follow the peculiar providence of this word for you as you let it guide you through the coming year!

Image is by Lee Bontecou, sculpture artist


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