At the end of 2014 I did what a lot of bloggers do these days and I chose a word for the upcoming year. My word for 2015 was soften. I wanted to be a softer person in all aspects of my life – in my classroom, in my home, and in my relationships with God and others. In my classroom I wanted to yell less, to show more patience, and to make my classroom a soft and safe place for my kids to be. At home I wanted to speak softly to my pets and give myself grace when I failed. I also wanted to soften how I spent my free time – yoga was definitely a part of that. In my relationships with others I wanted to soften my words – listening more and speaking less. I also have a tendency to be rather blunt and can sometimes hurt people’s feelings without meaning to. I’m also pretty good at hurting people’s feelings intentionally. But in 2015 I wanted to focus on soft, encouraging words. And in my relationship with God I wanted to soften my gaze, soften my own voice, soften my plans and my pleadings, and listen and learn.
I honestly feel like a much softer person right now in January 2016 than I did in January 2015. That is not to say that I don’t still have plenty of rough edges. But I can look back on my 2015 and see growth in all of the areas that I mentioned and I’m grateful for that. So, it would have been natural for me to choose another word for 2016, to focus on another area of my life in which I want to grow. But nothing was coming to me. I felt (and feel) much like Sarah Bessey was feeling when she shared the following on her Facebook:
I don’t really think that God is calling me to try harder and strive
more right now. I think my word isn’t quite rest or sabbath or anything like that either though because I know I have good work ahead of me this year and I’m excited to do it. I like my life just as it stands. But instead I have felt a sense of gentleness from God. Every time I start getting scarcity-minded and accusing myself or others, I feel the Spirit whisper an exhale of gentleness into my soul. It helps me to release expectations and that’s been nice.
She shared a lot of other nice words, as well, and you can read her entire post here.
I may not have a word for this year, but I do have a word of what I do NOT want to be and that is critical. I noticed a glaring critical spirit in myself over the past few months and I was not a fan. One day I remember just feeling exhausted by negative thoughts. I was tired of picking out everyone’s flaws. I wanted to be less critical. Less knit picky. Less judgey. Less of a downer.
So I looked up the antonyms for critical and I got complimentary, safe, and unimportant. Which are three great words. I want to be a complimentary person, quicker to point out what someone did well rather than what they did that I didn’t like. I want to encourage and build up, not criticize and tear down. I want to be a safe person, a person to whom others feel they can talk to and in whom others believe they can confide. I want others to be able to share their ideas and hopes and dreams with me without fear that I am going to point out all the flaws and unlikelihood.
I am a person that values honesty and as a human I often assume that other people value qualities like honesty with the same fervor that I do. So I often assume, subconsciously, that my friends would rather I tell them the very honest truth, bluntly and without sugar coating. Because that is what I value. But something I continued to learn in my year of softening is that the way that I receive love is not the way everyone else receives love. It doesn’t matter how nice my intentions are. If someone else is hurt by my words, that is on me.
I’m not saying that in 2016 I want to sugar coat things and brush the truth under the rug, but sometimes a truth just isn’t worth saying. I repeat to myself again – Is is True? Is is Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? If whatever I want to say isn’t all of those things, there is no reason for me to say it. So, no, I am not going to stop telling the truth, but I am going to start holding my tongue when the blunt, cut-to-the-quick truth isn’t helpful or necessary or being asked for.
The last antonym of critical is unimportant. And I could totally go the, “He must increase, I must decrease” route because in comparison to the Great, Loving God and His Great, Loving Plans I am super unimportant. Just in the grand scheme of the world, of this country, of this city even! I am pretty unimportant. Which isn’t self-deprecation. Nobody who knows me is worried about my self-esteem, trust me.
When I saw the word “unimportant” there among the list of antonyms I thought of a phrase my mom used to say all the time. “Don’t sweat the petty stuff and don’t pet the sweaty stuff.” It was her way of saying, “Chill out.” She still shares these sentiments with me often. “It’s not a big deal, it’s going to be fine.” I no longer want to get held up on small things that keep me from seeing the bigger picture. I no longer want to get distracted by the way the pastor says that one word weird and miss the whole point of the sermon. I no longer want to worry and stew over one mistake someone made (including myself) so that it ruins my day. I want to create space in my heart and in my mind for the important stuff. The words in the Bible that tell me more about who God is and hugs from my students and good conversations with friends over puzzles and PRAYER.
So I don’t have a word for this year, but I do have a NOT word for this year and for forevermore. This year I am quitting being critical.