I’m sure you know this by now (maybe you already have yours chosen!), but we’ve reached the season where we all pick our word for the new year - the word we want to focus on, the intention we want to set, our keyword for the next 365 days. I’m not sure where the idea originated or how long ago. I feel like it’s kind of a new thing, or at least new to me. But I think we all tend to want something new each time we close out December – new focus, new intentions, fresh start. Here we go again with a new chapter in our lives, the one labeled ‘2019’, so why not set the aim of our heart at the start? I’m into it.
I didn’t write about my word this past January because I felt like every other post I saw was someone writing about their word for the year. I’m not knocking it - I’ve done it, here and here. And I loved reading about what others were going to focus on when 2018 was just a brand new baby adjusting to the light in her eyes. I just find myself now wondering how it went and what you all learned! I wish those posts were as plentiful as the ones about our intentions. Anyway, January came and I tucked my word away in my journal and in my heart, thinking I’d wait to share.
The other reason I didn’t share immediately is because I didn’t really know what my word meant! I know that’s kind of weird to say, but I really didn’t understand why God had put this word on my heart. I don’t like to choose my word. I try to just pray through it in the month of December and see where God might lead and what he might want to teach me - it’s what I’m doing right now as I prepare for 2019. But I started an Advent study last December and over and over again the word favor kept being pressed deeper into my heart and I thought, “Favor? What are you talking about favor, God? What do I know of favor?” I looked around in the Bible for examples.
Genesis 6:8 “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.”
Luke 1:30 “The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.”
1 Samuel 2:26 “Now the boy Samuel was growing in stature and in favor both with the Lord and with men.”
“[Mary] found favor with God. What kind of life was she leading to have found favor? One of trust? Belief? Faith? Certainly not perfection. I don’t want to live a life of striving, but favor with God - who speaks to the wind and waves, the power who raises the dead and brings sight to blindness, light to darkness, certainly that is something worth living for. Did Mary question her favor when she snapped at Joseph? When she was rude or short or disappointed with her husband? Did she wonder her whole pregnancy if she was still carrying the One who created the world? Did she wrestle with doubt? Was she so secure in her faith so as to be untouchable to us all? Can we find that same kind of favor?”
So these giants of the Bible found favor with God and yet there I was thinking it was supposed to be my word for the year. Hilarious. Specifically because the four months leading up to December had been difficult. I haven’t been shy about how moving to Hawaii was like getting the rug pulled out from under me. I struggled through feelings of homesickness, panic, loneliness, embarrassment, and despair. I was reading a book last fall, which was a compilation of letters from Henri Nouwen, and a quote I hung on to was,
“Well, no wishes, but much hope, no big plans, but trust, no great desires, but much love, no knowledge of the future, but a lot of empty space for God to walk in! There is a deep sense of uselessness, but maybe that is the kind of soil God needs to sow His seed!”
If I felt anything at the end of 2017, it was certainly useless. God had a lot of empty space to walk around in my life and I was trying to let him have it all, but favor didn’t seem like the kind of thing I should be seeking in 2018. ‘What about peace or mercy or sanity, God?’ Regardless, I listened to his leading and leaned in to it. I looked around online and chose this background for my phone for the year as a reminder of my word.
Favor means showing kind regard, support, approval, preference. My prayer became, “Find favor with me God, as you did with Noah and the Israelites, with Ruth and Mary and Samuel. Find favor with me, God.” And when January came, I tried to look for ways it was true - that I was surrounded with favor - because if the Bible says it, we know it can be trusted. But favor still felt like too high of a promise – reserved for the mother of Jesus, the survivor of floods, ancestors in the lineage of a Savior.
The thing about having a word for the year is that I don’t always remember it. It’s not something I think of constantly. It’s not always at the forefront of my mind. Sure, I saw that verse on my phone every day, but there were still times in the last year when I felt like it wasn’t the word for me. Sometimes it felt like I must have misheard what he wanted to show me and that maybe having a word for the year was dumb anyway, so who cares, right?
But on my birthday this year, I looked back through my journals to read what I wrote last year on the same day. Last year on my birthday I was a wreck (and that’s putting it lightly). I didn’t want to be a substitute teacher – everything about the very idea was stressing me out and at that point I hadn’t even done it one day! I didn’t know the schools here or the kids or even where to park my car. I hadn’t been in a classroom in seven years! But more than that, I hated living in Hawaii. I wrote that so many times in my journal I could laugh at my own self right now! The bottomline is, I was not myself and the stress I brought into my home was felt by me and my husband.
But now! Oh, you guys, now! How great is His faithfulness to pull us through to where we are now! I can look back on the year and say that God has lavished his favor on me, my heart, and my family. I can pinpoint all the places where I felt truly surrounded by his favor. It was in coming back to Hawaii in January and finally feeling like I had my feet under me again. It was in a biopsy result I had been fearing that came back benign. It was visitors coming to see us and joy being shared with them. It was a surprise trip home to see my mom run her first full marathon. It was the excitement we felt when we found out I was pregnant and the comfort of being surrounded by family as we mourned our loss. It was warm days and safe flights and good friends and laughing again after the fog of grief. It was making our house a home and celebrating one year of marriage. It was felt in the changing of my heart. God grew me up, strengthened my bones, and set me on fire in new ways. I was drowning last year, feeling completely useless, and this year at my birthday I am approaching what’s next with great joy. And it’s not because circumstances have changed. I still live in Hawaii and I’m still subbing (in all the middle schools in my district!). God just spent the year polishing my heart. He picked me up, held me close, told me, “DO NOT BE AFRAID!” He walked into all that empty space and led me through fear, grief, joy, and all the emotions in between. That’s kind regard. That’s favor. That’s deep love.
2018 is rolling to a close but God is still showing me new ways he lavishes favor. Like perhaps the fresh reminder just last week that the definition of grace is “unmerited favor.” Of course it is! So then it is his favor, his preference, his support, his high regard for each of us that was lavished on the whole of the earth in the coming of a baby at Christmas. In the giving of his son on the cross. In salvation for all of us. “For by [unmerited favor] you have been saved through faith…” It’s his favor that draws us to him and bids us to stay near. So even if the sum of the year was heartache and pain, even then we would still be soaked in his favor because we have Jesus. And it’s not about getting stuff from him and being #blessed, it’s about having him and it being enough no matter what.
I didn’t spend the year striving to earn favor because I know it’s impossible. It can’t be earned. We can’t do enough stuff to earn his favor. He gives it freely and I finally opened my eyes to where it was all around me. He delights to show favor and does in so many ways. I think we can easily overlook it because if we don’t get that big thing we’re hoping for – a promotion, a house, a baby, a first date, a car, that dream job - or if everything falls apart right in front of us - we think we’re forgotten or he must not care. If we lose someone we love or feel pain or grief or sadness of any kind, we cold shoulder God and scoff at the idea of his favor. Years ago I used to tell myself, “Well _____ happened because God hates me.” But He doesn’t and He didn’t then, I was just too blind to see that maybe it was his sweet favor to withhold something from me. Maybe you know this feeling. Maybe you’re deep in it now. But just remember, you are not forgotten. You are not unseen. You are not left behind or left out. Draw near to him and he will show favor to you, surround you with it, soak you to the bone in it, in ways you least expect and probably without even changing your circumstances. He’ll walk around in all your empty spaces too and fill you up with unmerited, unending favor.