How One Word can shape your entire year

Since 2011, at the end of the year, I would assess the things that happened during the year and I would sum up my entire year in one word.

In 2016, I switched gears, thinking to be intentional and set a word before the year started. Unbeknownst to me, I was not the first person to think of doing such a thing, as my other friends were doing the same thing, too. In fact, it was something that a lot of other people were doing, in lieu of setting a whole slew of new year’s resolutions that would eventually end up being broken.

One friend, Melanie (not her real name), picked the word BUILD because though she was still single then, she wanted to build a strong foundation for her future family going forward. Another friend, Sarah, set FOCUS as her word for the year, having a lot on her plate in terms of work, business, family, friends, and ministry. I picked the word CHANGE for myself, feeling it will be a transformative year and I will need to undergo a lot of changes.

The challenge

Now they say that as soon as you set a word in motion, expect it to manifest, but also be ready for your commitment to the word to be challenged when the OPPOSITE happens.

Melanie, whose word was BUILD, was working towards building her finances, her relationships, and all other aspects of her life to secure her future. Instead she found herself in the middle of the year undergoing major life changes. She and her long-term boyfriend broke up, she lost her housing situation, she lost her job.

Sarah, whose word was FOCUS, had a hard time juggling everything she needed to juggle as her focus was all over the place. As a result, her commitment to her ministries and her family suffered.

I myself was struggling with my word, CHANGE. 2016 was a year of change. I was just starting to come to know God in the last quarter of 2015 and as a result, and 2016 was the year everything was new to me. For the first time ever, I was immersed in a religious community and in ministry. I became involved in a small discipleship group and forged friendships with new, godly people. I was part of the Media ministry and answered God’s call to join the Intercessory (prayer) ministry.  And 2016 was the year I adopted a morning Bible and devotional reading habit, reading the Bible in one year with the help of a daily Bible reading plan. I started to know God in a personal way and learned how to hear His voice (that’s a different and future blog post altogether). And when you come into a personal relationship with Him, you can’t help but be CHANGED.

That’s where the challenge set in.

I remember one particular one afternoon. I was lying in bed just feeling burdened and overwhelmed with the prospect of CHANGING for myself and for God. I remember thinking and feeling that I– (say this emphatically)– DID. NOT. WANT. TO. CHANGE. Living for and with God required me to step up, leave sin and negative qualities behind, shut out what the secular world deems important, and rethink what was important to me. Changing for the better was such a huge challenge, a huge responsibility, a huge undertaking. I just wanted to stay the way I am and be comfortable. I wanted to stay in my comfort zone.

The manifestation

However, by God’s grace, I continued and was consistent in reading my Bible throughout the year and change still manifested. I still had my bratty bouts of not wanting to change but almost inspite of myself, the positive changes in me persisted: I grew in my prayer life. I stopped swearing. I became conscious of the unhealthy food I was putting in my body (the temple of the Holy Spirit– 1 Corinthians 6:19) and lessened my intake of junk and processed food. I became sensitive to and learned to recognize God’s messages. I learned to develop patience, a virtue I admittedly lack and struggle with. I learned to tame my tongue and hold back mean and thoughtless side comments (well, it’s a work in progress, hehe). I learned to stop entertaining and indulging in negative and sinful thoughts and habits (also still very much a work in progress!).

And my friends?

By the end of 2016, Melanie (“build”) moved to a better apartment and found a new job. Her relationship with her boyfriend was restored and they got engaged that year (they’re now married!). And her faith journey and trust in God was strengthened. She mused that her trials were so that God could break her down to REBUILD her.

Sarah (“focus”), on the other hand, realized she had way too much on her plate and needed to let go of several things so she can focus on what’s important. She bid goodbye to things that weren’t serving her and her purpose, including extraneous ministries she was part of. And when everything and everyone was trying to compete for her attention and focus, she turned her focus on Jesus to find peace in the midst of all the noise.

The power of your One Word

The power of your word lies in your intentionality. They say you don’t even need a list of new year’s resolutions as most people are inclined to do at the start of every year. You just need to keep your One Word at the forefront of your consciousness. Being intentional and aware of your word helps you focus on and prioritize only the things that are aligned to or are in support of your word.

So let’s say you want to focus on being healthy (in all aspects of your life) this year and set NOURISH as your word. Keeping your word front and center should ideally strengthen your resolve to not reach for that bag of chips, to choose the healthier option when eating out, and maintain the friendships that nourish you instead of toxic ones that drain you.

Countering resistance to your word

The One Word challenge is done worldwide by all kinds of people, secular and religious. But as I strive to put God at the center of everything I do, I add a Bible verse to support my word, whatever my word is.

With God’s Word being the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), I wield my supporting verse by bringing it to mind and declaring it out loud when I’m having difficulty with my One Word.

My 2016 verse in support of my word CHANGE was Romans 12:2: Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. This is what I held on to in my 2016 year of transition from being wordly to a living a life with God.

In 2017, my word was LOVE— a reminder for me to love people (even the ones who are difficult to love) the way Jesus would. At several points during the year, I experienced the opposite of LOVE– not hate, but feelings of fear. I was highly emotional and fearful, due to past hurts and trauma, but also for reasons I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why as the fear seemed to come from nowhere. I’m usually not very emotional (I’m super stoic and chill) so I recognized it as a spiritual attack. When I recognized what was happening, I countered the fear I was experiencing by calling to mind and declaring 2 Timothy 1:7 (For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind), and 1 John 4:8 (There is no fear in love. But perfect love [God] casts out fear). And when I did, the fear would disappear, almost instantly.

This 2018, my word is BALANCE, partly pertaining to all I need to balance for work, my ministries, family, friends, personal goals, etc. When I feel overwhelmed and can’t seem to fit everything in my life, I bring to mind my support verse: There is a time for everything, and every season under the heavens (Ecclesiastes 3:1). It reminds me that some things are to be undertaken only for a season, and if I can’t do it now, perhaps it’s for another season in my life.

How do you pick your One Word?

Reflect. Think. Pray.

I personally pray about my word. For 2017, as soon as I asked God in prayer for a word, the word LOVE came to my mind immediately. For my 2018 word, it took me weeks of praying about my word, before I slowly settled on BALANCE which I really resonated with and couldn’t shake off from my thoughts.

But you can ask yourself these questions to help guide you in picking out a word: What do you need most in your life? Who do you want to be? Visualize yourself at the end of the year. How do you want to feel by then?

Take the time to feel out any word that best seems to fit. Some people manage to come up with their One Word immediately; others take much longer. Whichever way is fine. There’s no right or wrong way to come up with your word, and no one should tell you either what you can or cannot pick for your word for the year. What’s important is that it’s a word that resonates and something that should improve you or push you closer towards the best version of yourself or your goals.

Are you also doing the One Word exercise? What’s your One Word and how has it been working out for you so far?


Further reading about the One Word exercise: