Every year, Ali Edwards leads the One Little Word project. I know the idea of choosing a word for the likely didn’t originate with her, and I’m seeing it pop up on the internet in lots of different places, but I first heard of it through Ali.
In 2012, I chose abide, because I wanted to learn what it meant to be Mary instead of Martha, and last year, I chose grow because (hello!) I was literally growing a baby for most of the year. But my words went the way of most resolutions: discouraging by mid-January, forgotten by March, replaced by things and ideas seemingly more urgent.
The past two years have been a whirlwind of change, excitement, sadness, and joy, and I have moved quickly from one thing to the next. I have learned so much, but it was like drinking from a fire hydrant with a straw: I’ve barely had time to process because the stream never stops. Yet, as I prayed through the end of 2013 and anticipated the turn of the new year, God began helping me to see the common thread in all I had been learning and experiencing. My word became as crystal clear as anything has ever been for me, as if God had hopped in His little plane and wrote it across the sky: f-r-e-e. Free.
For most my life, my Christianity was defined by an attempt to always. be. good. I chose to believe in Jesus not because I loved Him or sensed His love for me, but because I believed I needed His forgiveness if I was to avoid hell. My faith was motivated by fear: fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of messing up, fear of the eternal. By following every rule and avoiding trouble, I was working hard to win everyone’s approval of me, including God’s.
Over time I’ve come to understand that Jesus is a God of love, of grace, of mercy fresh and new each day. I really, truly, understood His acceptance of me had absolutely nothing to do with anything I could or ever would do. And yet.
I have never been able to shake this perpetual rule-following and need for perfection in every facet of my life. Where rules do not exist, I make them up by setting impossibly high expectations for myself. And because I can never meet those expectations, at the end of every day, I have felt failure. Over the past few months, because of God’s gentle grace towards me, I’ve realized how my life has been defined by a constant undercurrent of stress, worry, and fear. Though I don’t like or enjoy those feelings, I still cling to them as though they are my friends, as though they mean I’m working towards something. In Galatians, Paul wrote, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” I read that one day and thought, “I have NO IDEA what that means.”
In A Million Little Ways, Emily Freeman wrote that we are all image-bearers with a job to do, and we are called to be fully ourselves in the presence of others. In the margins of the book, as she described what this might look like, I found myself writing, “free!” over and over again. What she described sounded, to me, like freedom, and I wanted it.
So, in 2014, I am on a journey to learn what it might like for me to be free. I’m excited to figure this out.
Have you chosen a word for the year? I’d love if you’d share!