It’s been a few years since I stumbled onto the OneWord365 movement, and while I was skeptical at first about its transformative possibilities, I’m a solid believer that focusing on one word for an entire year can change you.
It’s not magic, really. Or maybe it is a little bit magical. But I find that if I reflect on my life closely, I can see a theme emerge. I’ve yet to approach a new year without some idea of a word for the following year. It’s the same this year. The word found me, and I can’t wait to see where it leads.
A few months ago, I heard a sermon at church about Mary and Martha. We are reading through the book of Luke and discovering the way of Jesus, sometimes looking at familiar stories in fresh ways.
When I saw it was Mary and Martha’s turn, I felt my defenses rise. If you don’t know about the story, here’s a summary: Mary and Martha are sisters who lived in Bethany in Judea. Jesus and his disciples come to visit. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to his teaching. Martha scurries around the house getting things ready. She gets upset that her sister isn’t helping and tells Jesus to do something about it. Jesus acknowledges her worries and tells her that Mary has chosen better. (You can read the story here.)
See, I always get a little protective of Martha. She’s just trying to feed people! And really, she’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t, right? Sure, she could sit and listen to Jesus but eventually someone would complain that there wasn’t any food ready. And while she’s rushing around getting food ready, she’s being scolded for worrying! What the heck, Jesus.
That’s my first reaction, anyway, but when I sit with the passage a little more, I see something else happening here. Jesus isn’t telling Martha to not fix the food. He’s speaking to her attitude. And it’s not simply that she’s ungrateful or demanding her sister help. I think it’s something else.
I get Martha’s behavior because I am the same. I want to make sure everything’s ready and prepared just so and there’s no time for sitting and visiting when there’s food to attend to! I think Martha could have sat down with Mary and the disciples but her mind wouldn’t really have been there. Even if her body was sitting still, her mind would be moving.
I’m no Bible scholar, but what if Jesus was asking Martha to enjoy the moment instead of missing it?
Earlier this year, I had the chance to give up my phone for a time. It was not my choice, but it taught me a lot of things. One that I’m still pondering is: what am I missing when I check out of life?
Because I do it. All the time. I read books to avoid reality. I crack a joke when life gets too uncomfortable or overwhelming. I scan my phone for Facebook updates for stretches of time I can’t really account for. All the while, life moves on around me, and I’m missing it.
When we were in Kenya, I felt things and saw things and experienced things in a way I had not in a long time. And I read a book this year about addiction that made me wonder what pain I’m covering up or avoiding by distracting myself from life.
A few weeks ago, I had to have a HIDA scan at the hospital. For 48 minutes, I had to lie still with nothing to watch or look at. Some friends said they had had access to a TV during those scans, but I was left with my thoughts and the ceiling of a medical room. I closed my eyes. I let the tears fall because it was terrifying to be alone in the basement of a hospital with nuclear medicine coursing through your veins while a machine took pictures of your insides. I cried. And prayed. And recited what little Scripture I have committed to memory. I was forced to feel the emotional pain instead of being distracted by a movie or show.
I expected distraction because that’s what we do, right? My kids go to the dentist and they get to watch cartoons while the hygienist works in their mouths. Waiting rooms are filled with TVs and magazines, and if any of those things are lacking, then thank God for smartphones. We can watch and scroll and check out of the real life world around us. We don’t have to talk to anyone or be alone with our thoughts. I wonder if we even know what we think anymore because we don’t give ourselves time to let our minds wander. (I am guilty, too, so please do not take this as judgment or condemnation.)
So, in 2016, I’m giving myself a gift. My word for the year is present because I want to share more than the physical space around me with people. I want to be all there. I want to listen to my kids read and play games with them. I want to notice the world around me. I want to feel whatever I’m feeling without the benefit of distraction. Even if it hurts. I don’t exactly know how this is going to play out. I never really do.
But here’s what I know so far:
My phone is going to have a landing spot in the house. It does not have to be on or near me all the time, and when my kids are home, I’m going to limit its use.
I’m going to read less fiction next year. If you know anything about me, you know how much I love to read, and I think stories are wonderful and an effective means of communicating truth. But too often, I use fiction as a distraction from my real life. Non-fiction forces me to think and contemplate and ask questions. Fiction is sometimes an escape. I’m not ready to give it up completely, even for a year, but I am going to give up fiction for Lent. During those weeks, I will read non-fiction or nothing. It will be a difficult form of detox for me.
I will take one day at a time. I’m the sort of person who is always thinking about the next thing. “When we’re finished with this, then we’re going to do this.” It’s not necessarily bad, but I find myself thinking about tomorrow before today is even finished. I like to plan, and I still will. But I’m going to make an effort to enjoy what is happening in the moment instead of focusing on the next task at hand.
I believe it will be a gift, even if it takes a while to untangle myself from the shiny wrappings of distraction. I hope you’ll stick around on the journey and see where it leads.
Will you consider your own “One Word” for the year? You can get started here.