How to Choose Your Word of the Year

I had not given much thought to the idea of a word for the year. It was more of a musing I had after listening to a podcast on that topic at the beginning of January.

So as I drove to work, I considered what word to choose. I wanted something inspiring or aspirational, and so I tinkered with the word “finish,” as in, I want to finish writing the mystery that is two-thirds done and has remained so for the past 10 years.

Then I thought, no, let’s go bigger. I’ll choose the word “success.” After all, isn’t that what we want for all our endeavors? Yes, success would be my word for 2021. Then just before I turned onto Main Street in Frisco, a question popped into my mind: What about trust?

Trust, as in, do you trust in God’s plan for your life?

I wanted to roll my eyes, but I was driving. Because trust in God’s plan, when I could find no evidence of it, was an ongoing issue intrinsically tied to the word success in my mind and part of a tired conversation I’ve been having with God for years.

I preferred success.

Later that day, I was discussing this with my friend Amy, and she laughed and said that’s just the way it worked. It wasn’t that we chose our word but that the word chose us, and usually they are two very different words.

Later, she emailed me a paragraph that did a wonderful job of explaining the greater significance of choosing a word for the year.

“We can ask for a word through meditation, and it will come to us in different ways,” Amy wrote. “Sometimes, it just keeps showing up and it stirs something in us. It keeps repeating itself until we stop and pay attention to it. We do not select it. It selects us.”

Christine Valters Paintner, of Abbey of the Arts, also explains how the word can choose you.

“In ancient times, wise men and women fled out into the desert to find a place where they could be fully present to the divine and to their own inner struggles at work within them. The desert became a place to enter into the refiner’s fire and be stripped down to one’s holy essence. The desert was a threshold place where you emerged different than when you entered.

“Many people followed these ammas and abbas, seeking their wisdom and guidance for a meaningful life. One tradition was to ask for a word. This word or phrase would be something on which to ponder for many days, weeks, months — sometimes a whole lifetime. This practice is connected to lectio divina, where we approach the sacred texts with the same request: ’Give me a word,’ we ask — something to nourish me, challenge me, a word I can wrestle with and grow into. The word which chooses us has the potential to transform us. A word which contains within it a seed of invitation to cross a new threshold in your life.”

I have to say, I was a skeptic. But trust chose me. It has shown up time and again in conversations, in Bible passages and finally in the prayer I’ve included below.

I now think of my word like one of those smooth stones that are carried in the pocket and held onto for comfort. A talisman of reassurance to fall back on as we walk into the new year. Our word is a reminder of what we may need for the journey.

Learning to trust God is one of the most difficult paths on our journey of faith. The courage to let go and trust after we have fought the good fight and failed again, when we are broken and believe we are alone.

That is exactly when we need to trust God most. Always present, God only asks us to become quiet long enough to experience his presence and his love and know that we are never alone and always helped.

What is your word for the year?

Patient Trust’

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability — and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually — let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.

Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

— Prayer of Teilhard de Chardin

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Walking our Faith” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson is the author of 10 novels and nonfiction books on faith. She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at


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