Choosing Joy

Do you choose a word for the year every January? Have you struggled to know how to find a word (or phrase) to focus on for the next twelve months? Here’s how something my Grandma said helped me choose my word – the year I was choosing joy.

Choosing Joy –  My 2018 Word for the Year

It was my second time choosing a word for the year. I had done it for the first time in 2017, and it had been such a help to me that I knew I wanted to do it again.

I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive about the whole thing. The year before I had been impressed (perhaps convicted is a more accurate description!) to choose the word “kind” and I had many opportunities for testing and growth in that area (you can read more about that here).

So when 2018 rolled around and I knew the word I was supposed to focus on this year was “joy”, I naturally wondered what was awaiting me and what perhaps difficult circumstances were going to put my joy levels to the test!

The verse I couldn’t get out of my head was, “The joy of the LORD is your strength”. These words from Nehemiah 8:10 were among some of my lifelong favorite Scriptures. They had become even more special to me a couple of years before when I had been talking to my Grandma Marion who was suffering from dementia at the time, a disease that would eventually claim her life.

My Grandma Marion and Grandpa Ken at one of their favorite Chinese restaurants

Though her ability to remember recent events was fast fading, her long-term memory still held strong, and the disease that wreaks havoc on the personalities of so many had miraculously only sweetened her already pleasant disposition. It was always such a joy to talk with her and ask her questions about her days as a young mother.

During one particular conversation, I had shared with her about some of the challenges I was facing as a mother of two young boys (she had mothered three boys, my dad being one of them, and believe me, she had her hands full if my dad’s stories of his childhood escapades are true!). She said to me, “When my boys were little, I often thought about the verse ‘The joy of the Lord is [my] strength’, and that helped me so much!” After that conversation, the verse that was already special to me took on a whole other dimension of meaning.

Fast forward to 2018. The year before had been one of the hardest we had ever been through as a couple. It had been a year of loss: personally, in ministry, and within our extended family.  I battled homesickness and loneliness more than I had in the previous seven years since I had married and moved to the United States. I found myself longing for change and wishing that God would open the way for us to move on – somewhere, anywhere, from where we were right then (gratefully, I now can look back and say I am truly glad that God does not give us everything we wish for!).

As I somewhat reluctantly chose the word “joy” as my word for 2018, deep down I wondered what God was preparing me for. In many ways, this new year was a year I hoped to refocus and rebuild, not experience more heartbreak. But in February of that year, we tragically lost my Uncle. He had been living near and caring for my Grandma, who had by this time moved into a memory care facility.

My Grandma and Grandpa doing one of their favorite things together: camping!

In the aftermath of my Uncle’s passing, we as a family briefly considered bringing my Grandma from Michigan to live with us in North Dakota, but because of her poor health and the complications in moving her across the country, that option was soon taken off the table, and my Grandma moved to a facility near one of my cousins in Ohio, which was a much more practical solution.

Then in June, my Grandma took her final breath and went to be with the Saviour she had loved and served since a young girl. Though I knew that she was ready to go, and had been suffering more each day, it was still hard to lose her, and I felt her absence keenly, perhaps even more so because she was my last living grandparent. I had always felt close to her, and had so many fond memories of her, even though we lived so far apart and our in-person visits were far too infrequent.

Yet her words from years before still rang strong in my heart: “The joy of the Lord is your strength”! Life is full of ups and downs, calm and chaos, gains and losses, health and illness. Someone has said, “Happiness depends on our changing circumstances, but joy depends on our unchanging God.”

The fact is, God is faithful. Because He is faithful, I can trust in Him. The hard things of life are going to happen because we live in a sin-cursed, broken world. But having a bedrock dependence on God, and a deepness of joy that cannot be stolen by my circumstances, however harsh they are, will give me the strength to face whatever may come. My Grandma taught me that!

This necklace was a tangible reminder for me throughout 2018

There’s nothing magical about choosing a word for the year, but there is something about the practice that I have found to be deeply helpful. It’s kind of like having a beacon of light from a lighthouse. Your ship may get tossed around in the wind, but that light can help to re-orientate you and guide you in the right direction no matter what is going on around you.

If you’ve never chosen a word or phrase for the year, I strongly urge you to do just that! Here are some guidelines for choosing a word or phrase that I also shared in my post on the first year I ever chose a theme word (you can read that whole post here).

Some guidelines that have helped me in choosing a word are:

  1. Pray about it. As a follower of Christ, my primary desire is to have a year that is led by God. So I ask Him to show me if there is an area that I should focus especially on that year, or reveal to me an area of growth that is needed in my life.
  2. Don’t overthink and over-analyze. You really can’t go wrong with choosing a word. It doesn’t have to be something really profound or nuanced. Start with asking yourself, “What is one thing/area in my life that is lacking/needs improvement?” My experience in the few years I’ve been doing this is that a word comes to my mind pretty quickly, but I know others may make a list of a few words, think over it for a period of time, and then make their choice.
  3. Once I’ve got a pretty good idea of what my word is going to be, I like to do a simple word study on it from the Bible, and then choose a couple of Scriptures that really reinforce the concept that I am developing.
  4. Once you’ve chosen your word, let somebody know! Whenever we are working on making some changes or setting a new goal, it’s a great idea to let at least one other person know about it, because it gives us a little bit more accountability, which is just another way of saying that we are more likely to stick to it and follow through!
  5. Make or purchase a tangible object with your word on it. This could be a sign, a magnet, a piece of jewelry, or some artwork. I’ve been surprised just how often I see “my word” all around once I’ve chosen it, and I’ve never had a problem finding something with my word on it; a vase, a necklace, a wall hanging, a magnet. I find that having a visual reminder of my word somewhere where I see it often helps keep it in the forefront of my mind and heart.

What’s your word or phrase for the year? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Have a lovely day,

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  1. Dear Cara,
    Thank you so much for your insight. I love reading your posts because they cause me to focus on practical spiritual things. I had never heard of choosing a word for the year. I believe I will choose the word “encouragement.” I have often wished that someone would see that I need to be encouraged, and after reading your post on the word kind I realized I need to think more about encouraging others. We have recently been encouraged by God through different means and I’m so grateful He is so faithful. Thanks for the encouragement your posts have been to me. God bless you. Linda

  2. This is one of my favourite verses . It is one I use to encourage those that are going through difficult times.

    I think my verse phrase would be “Prayer without ceasing” ?

    Thank you for your blog it is encouraging. Love you

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