My (very late) word for the year

I didn’t choose a “word of the year” this year. The New Year happened to coincide a particularly low point in the book process, even by doomed project standards, and I scrapped the whole word choosing process when the only options I could come up with were:

Then last Tuesday I found myself at daily Mass, and I think I got my word.

My husband had kindly arranged to take a day off of work so that I could get some time to recuperate after a month that has so far been insane on a lot of different levels. Using a chunk of my precious free time to go to church was a move borne more of desperation than of pure holiness. I had really tried to keep God out of the picture and manage everything on my own, but, oddly enough, that didn’t work out so well. I’d been overwhelmed for months. Not “life-shattering crisis” overwhelmed, but just the slowly soul-sucking, “do I really want to live with this low-grade stress every day?” overwhelmed. I knew I needed to do something about it, but I was too busy treading water to figure out how to swim to shore. Meanwhile, I barely noticed that I was gradually sinking…until after the accident, when I started to drown. And so I found myself sitting in a pew on a Tuesday afternoon, not even knowing what to pray for, but just kind of hoping that if I sat there and looked extra pathetic God would notice and feel sorry for me.

I should have known that it would be an occasion of transformation, because it was the first time in a while that I had actually put God first. In contrast to my recent behavior, going to that Tuesday Mass was a radical act of faith, a routine-shattering occasion of declaring that God will work everything out if I actually give him a few moments of my attention. And sure enough, when I returned to the pew after receiving the Eucharist, there was a message for me. When I knelt in prayer a single word came to me, stopping all other thoughts and filling my mind as if I’d heard a loud roll of thunder:

AUTHORITY

I figured it was pretty safe to say that this was from the Holy Spirit and not from the Jen’s Crazy Ideas grab-bag, since it was a) clear, b) not related to anything I had been recently thinking about, and c) carried with it a feeling of great peace. As I unpacked this word and all the messages that came with it, I became more and more convinced that this was the answer that I had been looking for — as well as my guiding word for the rest of the year.

The issues I’d been having with feeling overwhelmed could be framed as an issue of authority: When I wake up each morning and start dancing like a trained monkey in response to all the requests that wait for me in my email inbox, without once considering if this is really what I should be doing at this moment, I am essentially saying that my email inbox is my authority. When I dash around trying to do X, Y, and Z because that’s what Mrs. So-and-So down the street does and therefore everyone will obviously think I’m a terrible mom if I don’t also do X, Y, and Z, I am making poor Mrs. So-and-So my authority (and she doesn’t even know me!) When I feel like I must check Twitter or text messages or whatever before I can do anything else, that media has become my authority.

Thinking about my situation this way not only helped me understand how I got into this mess in the first place, but now I know what I need to do to get out:

Place my life under the proper authority.

That doesn’t mean that I’ll cut out all of the activities that have been overwhelming me; I may even do some of them more. But instead of rushing around at the beck and call of whatever “urgent” item has popped up on my computer or smartphone, I’ll pause to ask myself what I am really serving here, and whether it should be my authority. If the task at hand seems to be from God, either because I feel peacefully led to do it, or because it falls into the category of “One of Those Things I Know God Wants Me to Do — no discernment necessary!” (e.g. feeding the kids once in a while), I’ll do it. And — here’s the key — I won’t worry about what is meanwhile not getting done, because I will understand that those tasks have no authority over me.

We’ll see how it goes. It seems to be a natural part of life that we find ourselves in a constant ebb and flow of getting overwhelmed, fighting back the chaos, then drifting into Crazyland again. So I doubt that this will be the final solution to my tendency to get myself in over my head. But it is really helping for now — and, if nothing else, it has kindled within me a burning and passionate desire for daily prayer. Setting aside a few silent moments for God each day is a good thing for a lot of reasons, but right now, the biggest one for me is that these are moments of re-orientation, of aligning my life according to its real Authority.

UPDATED TO ADD: Don’t miss Marissa Nichols’ great post on a similar subject, in which she talks about how she’s been having a tough time lately, and offers a powerful and eloquent prayer for those who are going through Hell. Beautiful stuff.

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25 Responses to “My (very late) word for the year”
  1. Christina says:

    “Authority.” I love it! And way better “late” than never. :)

  2. Love this, Jen! The word…your reflections…all of it. :)
    Hallie @ Betty Beguiles recently posted..Off to Chicago!

  3. Jen G says:

    What a great way to think about reorienting your life. When I start feeling stressed out, I always have to stop and think about what I’m putting first. God always answers my prayers abundantly when I put my trust in Him!

  4. First time commenter, long time reader…
    Don;t have anything deep to say, just wanted to let you know this post really hit me on a personal level. Thank you. I hope I can follow your lead here.
    Steve Brady (@Brady_Steve) recently posted.."Lewis learned one of the central lessons of wealth and wealth creation: being wealthy and feeling…"

  5. Kimberlie says:

    What a great word to meditate on! Yes, I don’t think I realize how much power I give to others and other things when in my head I like to think that God is my “authority.” Nope, you just pointed out some of the many ways in which I rob him of authority in my life.
    Kimberlie recently posted..Interpreter of Dreams

  6. Beverly says:

    This really opened my eyes Jen. Thanks for sharing, which in turn has prompted me to “get back on track”. I am going to write AUTHORITY on post it notes in strategic places to help remind me to be careful of what power I give to certain things/people.

  7. Paula says:

    I really wish you were my next door neighbor.

  8. Wendell says:

    This is so nice. I love your article.
    Wendell recently posted..More Information On Hemorrhoid Causes

  9. Sammy says:

    Hi Jen,
    I’ve just started following your posts. I wanted to let you know that I recently had a very similar ‘chat with God’. We’ve been trying to fall pregnant for a while now and its turned out to be tougher than I expected, so I turned to good ‘ol Google (as one does!) … inevitably pregnancy websites became my ‘authority’. Then about two months ago I came across this in 2 Corinthians 1:9 

”But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.”
    For me this meant that, as much as educating myself was important, I had come to rely on these websites to comfort and reassure me instead of relying on God.
    There are no substitutes for God as the authority in our lives – he knows it and wants us to know it too!
    Lots of love to you.

    • Mary says:

      2 Corinthians 1:9 

”But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.”
      Love this – and love the word, Jennifer!

  10. “Using a chunk of my precious free time to go to church was a move borne more of desperation than of pure holiness.”

    You make it sound like desperation and pure holiness are in opposition. 2 Cor 12:9-11 come to mind here.

  11. Benedicte says:

    Dear Jennifer,

    My word of the year: CONTINUE

    How curious that you should blog on this topic this week, it is nearly as though MY prayers were answered…For one thing, I found your entry reassuring, because I realised that I am not alone in going through mad anxiety moments. Secondly, I too experienced the “one word piece of advice” moment last week (wednesday actually). For me, it was “CONTINUE”. I am always very anxious about whether I should stop the madness, quit work and be a stay at home mum (although I can see that the anxiety is there too!). But I clearly heard that word in my heart during adoration, it was “loud” and very clear. Today, at adoration, I continued praying on the same theme, and was strengthened in that “message”, by thinking more clearly about ABANDONMENT TO DIVINE PROVIDENCE. I purchased an audio booked called just that about a month ago and started listening to it when I’m cooking.
    I have no idea how this is going to work out, but this kind of abandonment, when I do it, is the strongest feeling of peace ever. Ever!
    For info (not advice!), I started making myself go to adoration once a week for one hour. It’s part of my work, or so I consider it to be part of it (I’m a university lecturer, not in a Catholic university – my rationale is that I need A LOT of guidance in what I do, to make sure it is ALL for His glory), and it has become my weekly lifeline. I actually long for my “chats” with Our Lord Jesus Christ.

    For what it’s worth, I think you need to CONTINUE what you’re doing too. Your blog is truly amazing, and obviously gives a lot of comfort, truth and hope to a lot of women out there. It’s tough, I know, but I believe that even the anxieties are sufferings that God sends us. They’re ways to holiness (that’s from the audiobook by the way…). I’ll include you in my prayers.

    Thanks for your blog, your time, and everything else.

    Benedicte

  12. Roz says:

    I’m reminded of the centurion. “I am a man under authority; when I say to a man “go”, he goes.” Not a man “in authority”, notice.

    In the state of being appropriately connected within God’s benevolent authority, the grace faucet can get turned on. May the power of the Holy Spirit comfort, strengthen, and enliven us.
    Roz recently posted..Strap me on, Jesus

  13. Jeannine says:

    This is a relief to me. I am always envious of those who have a nice, succinct, salient word all set by January 1st! I’ll catch a phrase, maybe, but have trouble with the word. Thank you for the “permission” to always be open. And I love your word. I can’t wait to see how it bears fruit. You are in my prayers.

    I wrote this little bit of encouragement to myself when anxiety seemed to threaten our peace this spring. You get to see our communion banners, too, in all their felt glory. Here’s a link in case you have a second.

    http://jeannine-graceandpeace.blogspot.com/2012/04/do-i-act-like-easter-person.html
    Jeannine recently posted..The Carefree Childhood

  14. Great post! I love the sentence, “I’ll pause to ask myself what I am really serving here, and whether it should be my authority.” I think that’s something we all need to stop and think about on a regular basis.
    Janelle@AStoryofGrace recently posted..dreaming of…

  15. April says:

    Oh my gosh! How much I needed to go through this. I have been feeling overwhelmed and in the mornings (best time for me) I make an excuse to sleep in and not spend time with the Lord. I know He’s not beating me up but He knows how much I need to spend time with Him. Makes the problems seem smaller than they are. It also doesn’t help when it’s that time of the month when everything is exaggerated. I’m thankful that He is gracious especially through those times. Thank you for sharing this.

    *I don’t believe it was an accident that I happened upon your blog today*

    THANK YOU!
    April recently posted..To do or not to do, that is the question

  16. Becky says:

    Add this one to your sidebar of favorite posts, please. I know I will be wanting to refer back to it frequently.

  17. elizabethe says:

    This is funny. I read your word and the thing that instantly came to my mind is that sometimes “I” carry God’s authority, specifically, for my children. I am THEIR authority, and they are not mine.

    This is especially problematic for me now that we’re getting ready to start what I think of as “really” homeschooling in September and I see that in general, though I sort of guide the kids through the day, they really set the agenda for when things get done. And it’s just not okay, because it leads to real chaos. I need to here that I AM a legitimate and Godly authority over them. It’s okay for me to put my foot down and say, NO we will do math before we color. YES, we WILL leave right now, because I’m the mommy and I know best about this, you are 5 and you know nothing. You will respect my authority the same way you respect your father’s (sadly, there is a real discrepancy in their behavior for me and for my husband, and I know it’s my fault).

    Of course this goes hand in hand with me being blown around by the urgent but not important “authorities” that you talk about above. I am the channel of God’s authority to them and if I am myself am not following the proper authority in my life, then I’m not going to be able to lead them, either. Thanks for this.

  18. Magnificat says:

    I am reminded every single day to think about what I’m putting first. And frankly, putting God first didn’t bring me anything good or at least consoling. Only battle, strain and fatigue. And I’m especially tired looking at all these people who put themselves first, and prosper.

  19. Holly says:

    Another word that I have reflected on along the same lines: obedience. I’m learning to listen and be obedient to God’s voice rather my own desires (which only leave me more anxious and unfulfilled). In time, it has gotten easier, more natural. God’s voice is quieter than my own and so requires more silence to hear.

  20. Jane says:

    Thanks, Jennifer, I needed this – as my computer had “authority” over me. I’m awakened and now have authority over it. . .what a powerful feeling to be in charge!

    Saw you on Life On The Rock – got hooked. I’m looking foward to seeing you on The Journey Home.

    Jane

  21. Alison says:

    Thankyou, Thankyou for posting this. I so needed to read it.

  22. steve b says:

    Jennifer,

    I found your blog by way of a youtube video you posted. First off, let me put out that I’m an atheist. I’m not simply a non-christian mind you (I was raised christian, more on that later) but I don’t follow any of the various and sundry faith systems in the world.

    I also know something about authority, being a member of the US Army. Whether I’m giving or receiving orders, I recognize that my orders are from a legitimate authority by way of our rank structure (by the same token, Soldiers I command recognize my orders are legitimate by my higher rank and capacity in whatever duty assignment I have). My question is how do you verify that the word authority came down from the Holy Spirit as you claim? If I give a Soldier orders, he or she can verify it came from me in any number of ways. Plus, any other Soldier can look at the orders and say, yeah that came from steve b. No one else here but you can tell us what was going through your head during your prayer. Plus, is the process that you used to determine that your word came from the holy spirit always the way the holy spirit works?

    I want to make my next point with a favorite Army joke of mine. There once was a colonel who had an open position for a captain, and three first lieutenants eligible for promotion. The colonel decided to ask each one how they handled a situation, and the one who gave the best answer would get the promotion. He called each one in and asked “If I told you I needed a flagpole planted in the middle of the parade field by 1700, how would you go about doing it?” The first LT said, “I’d grab a shovel and start digging.” The colonel said he wasn’t getting the promotion and dismissed him. He then asked the second LT, who replied, “Well first I’d prepare a mission order, fill out the necessary forms and perform a risk assessment…” The colonel cut him off and dismissed him before he could go any further. Then he asked the last LT, who said “I’d get on the horn to my first sergeant and say ‘top, I need a flagpole planted in the middle of the parade ground by 1700, make it happen!” To which the colonel replied, “Congratulations captain.” I want to point out the way the last lieutenant phrased his order. He told the first sergeant exactly what he wanted, where it needed to be and when it needed to be there. In the Army, we’ve found that things get accomplished a lot smoother when orders are clear, than when they’re not. If we’re to take your supposed communion with the holy spirit as issuing an order, that would be like if the lieutenant got on the horn with his first sergeant and just said “flagpole.” Not much of an order is it? And I’d submit that any entity worthy of being called God would realize that its followers would bring about its will a lot easier by giving clear instructions rather than relying on hazy revelations and a single book that has gone through numerous translations. A God worthy of being called God would make its message more clear.

    My last question is, assuming for the moment that the word “authority” was indeed planted in your mind by a supernatural force, how do you know it was the christian holy spirit? And to take it one step further, back when you didn’t believe, what drew you to christianity in general and the catholic brand of christianity in particular? There are all sorts of deities you could have picked from back then, and those same deities could have spoken to you in the pew that day. Why did you pick the christian god, and not Thor, Zeus, Apollo, Brahma, Vishnu, Osiris, Tiamat or Morrigan, to name just a few? Again going back to the analogy of me giving orders, it’s pretty easy for a Soldier to see that an order came from me, and not from some other Soldier. As I said before I used to be christian, but it was never clear to me when or even if God was speaking to me or showing me signs. I never felt a presence in church or the sacraments. I have felt awe-inspiring and transcendent experiences, but even when I was a believer I never really attributed them to God, and now I realize that transcendent experiences aren’t logically or demonstrably attributable to a supernatural force. To co-opt a phrase from Han Solo, I’ve been from one side of the planet to the other and I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to convince me there’s some all-powerful force in control of everything.

  23. Grace says:

    You are so much more advanced than I am! I pick up the Psalms and am relieved that someone is crying out to God in the way I feel. Like it’s OKAY to feel that way, and that God can take it. Many times when you are trying to do right, people try to drag you back down. God seems so distant and you wonder why he doesn’t answer. There are many frustrating times. Maybe it happens at the beginning of the process as a Christian. But sometimes it happens later, when people you trust get caught up in something that isn’t good and act like you’re crazy for speaking against it. Maybe you just aren’t easily disheartened. :-) I find you to be a very cheerful person, which is a pleasure! One other book you might enjoy is Christ in the Psalms by Patrick Henry Reardon. A lot of people like it. From a review: “Fr. Patrick argues persuasively that the Pslams are the backbone to a proper understanding of the human condition, the heart of God, and the nature of Christ’s incarnation.”

  24. Brenda says:

    I love everything about this post. Now I feel less loser-ish for not choosing a word for my year. Thank you. :)
    Brenda recently posted..Blueberry Bran Muffins