Jennifer Thomas reflects on how having a word of the year has impacted her spiritual journey.
Several years ago, I was introduced to the concept of a word of the year by way of a podcast series called Abiding Together. The women’s group I had recently joined had been listening to the series as a way for us to continue to grow in our faith. After listening to the episode about discerning a word of the year, I reflected on an earlier episode that talked about striving versus abiding. After listening to it again and, having not yet decided on my word for the year, I initially felt convinced it should be "strive." I wanted to strive to do better as a wife and mother and faithful daughter of God.
I was so confident, in fact, that I shared what I thought was to be my word of the year with several of my friends. Looking back, I can see that God was guiding me in the right direction but re-focused my attention. Literally, while I was driving. I distinctly remember the moment and location I fully discerned my first word of the year. As I paused to a stop, I said to myself, "Yes, strive."
And then I heard God say, "No, abide."
Merriam-Webster defines the word “abide” as to bear patiently or to wait for.” An additional definition is “to remain stable or in a fixed state.” Ironically, the Scripture verse from the NABRE (the translation that is most widely used when referencing “abiding”) doesn't even have the actual word written in it. Rather, it uses the word "remain."
"Remain in me, as I remain in you." (John 15:4a)
After telling another dear friend my word of the year, she gave me a t-shirt that has my word written on it. I often find myself compelled to wear it on certain days and I feel like it is God’s gentle way of reminding me how important it is that I remain with Him. After finally feeling like I was getting the hang of figuring out how this whole word of the year thing was relating to my everyday life, an entire year had passed and it was time to start focusing on what could be my word for the upcoming year of 2020.
I had barely begun thinking of what it could be when, once again, God let me know my new word was to be “mother.” As simple a word as it may seem, it had and continues to have a profound impact on my life.
Having lost my own mother several years before, I found myself struggling to figure out who I was as a mother. And once again, God gently nudged me and gave me perspective on so many different aspects of the word "mother." If you search it in the dictionary, one of the words that comes up is "nurture." I was seeking someone to nurture me. At the same time, I was very much wanting to nurture my relationship with my own children, especially my daughter.
As the year unfolded, I realized my word wasn't just about me and my relationship with my own mother or even how I was as a mother to my own children. It became more about learning to lean in to our Mother, Mary, as a nurturer. It was God's way of showing me, through Mary's example, of what it means to be a mother.
Now, a few years down the road from that first word, I find I still have my moments where I tend to strive for the best but am learning how to continue to abide in the grace of God's loving embrace. When I lean into His embrace and remain with him, He reminds me of what it means to be a mother, fully embracing my children in their time of needing to be nurtured. I am learning that it is God who allows me to continue to grow in my journey toward becoming a saint.
In those years since that first initial discernment process, I have grown spiritually and am able to better listen for God’s voice. Some years, it's been very obvious while other years, it's taken some time or even a little bit of technology. As I reflect on each of the words, I am definitely noticing a theme and commonality as they seem to all relate and build up on each other in ways I never could have imagined. I look forward to sharing more about my journey and how it continues to evolve with each simple, yet profound word.
Copyright 2022 Jennifer Thomas
About the Author
As a Catholic wife and mom to three children, Jennifer earned her masters degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and recently reverted back to her Catholic faith. Jennifer is an avid stationery enthusiast who enjoys finding unique and beautiful stationery to send to her friends and family. She also enjoys researching ways to instill Catholic traditions within her family while finishing her first book.