I don’t know how the trend started, but a few years ago people got really into choosing a single word as their theme for the new year. I’ve never been interested in resolutions, but words well, that’s a different matter.
A few days before my 26th birthday, I was laying in bed thinking about those mysterious words and how someone goes about picking just one in a galaxy of millions when I wondered, nearly absentmindedly, what word could describe year 25 for me. Almost immediately, SOULFUL popped into my head. Really? I thought. So what about this next year?
In the three years that I’ve walked with a word in hand, it has stunned me how intricately the word is woven into the events of that year – how they speak exactly to what I need and who Jesus wants to be to me in that year. What I’ve come to discover as the key to picking a new word each year is simple: the word, when it’s time, will always come find you.
I heard someone say once that outside of Scripture, God doesn’t necessarily speak to each of us the same way. However, to each individual person He consistently speaks the same way over and over — like a personal language between the two of you. I’ve come to discover that my personal back and forth language with God lives in a million details – colors, sounds, dates and of course, words. To the passerby they mean nothing, but to us, the two who know our conversations, have heard my questions, know what I’ve been reading, thinking and praying — well, to us it is no coincidence.
First, the word pops up on the edge of my brain. Hmmm. That’s interesting. Like waving a flag from the far side of a field, it’s announcing its presence. Then slowly, slowly it makes its way into my days and thoughts through conversations, things I read, things I’m listening to. Hmmm. That’s interesting I’ll think again. In time, it wiggles in far enough that I can’t reason it away. I start seeing it in Scripture and begin turning the word over and over, wondering what kind of work this new word might bring with it. If I’m not careful, my eyes will get wild with imaging how good I’m going to get at this word, how in a year’s time I will be able to practically teach a course on this word, how THIS IS THE WORD THAT WILL FINALLY CHANGE EVERYTHING! You would think I picked the word, not the other way around. No, at this point, I like to imagine that the word and Jesus exchange a glance like, Oh boy, there she goes again. Laughing, because tool box in hand, they know how small my understanding actually is of the work they are about to embark on.
Now that you know about the word process, I think it’s time to clue you in on a conversation I’ve been having on a regular basis for about a year:
Holy Spirit: Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
Me: Eh ….
Holy Spirit: Joy comes in the morning. You’re going to dance again.
Me: You know … thank you, but I’d rather just not. I don’t even see how that’s possible honestly, but even if it is, I’d rather not. It’s not okay that Rhett isn’t here – I hate it, in fact – so thanks, but no thanks. I don’t want it. I’m willing to make it without joy.
Something I’ve grown mindful of in regards to grief is that like anything else, it can be turned against you and used to make you feel like you’re not “doing it” right. Am I feeling too much? Am I not feeling enough? Have I been crying for too long? Should I have moved on? Shouldn’t this be easier to talk about by now? Should I ever even want to move on? Emotions – they are champion feelers, but sometimes the very worst at telling you the whole truth. I’ve decided that when it comes to grief, there are no rules and everyone’s journey through it is a new trail in the wilderness, one they must cut for themselves. Pick up your machete to the right please.
So about a month ago, as I started to slow down and listen for Year 28’s word, nothing happened for a long time. It was quiet, so quiet in fact that I had started to think we were maybe done with this word thing when softly and slyly, a tiny word showed up in the corner of my mind. It was like God saying, Oh hi there. I know you’re not ready for this so I’m just going to it way over here, off to the side. It’s not going to bother you. Let’s just all get used to being in the same room together. To which I said, Ohhhhh no. Nope. It can’t sit with us. Nooooooo thank you. It’s not time, it’s not right. No, no and oh yeah, no.
Would you believe it then, that after my incredibly authoritative “it can sit with us” argument that joy got up and started hopping closer? The word began popping up during my day just to say hi in conversations and songs. Then, well, then joy got bold. It jumped inside me at the oddest times. I’ve found myself dancing to Taylor Swift songs in while getting ready in the morning. Walking down the street, it winks with the twilight sky. Driving home from the store, it shows up on the radio as MMMbop blasts in from the past. It meets me when I wake up in the morning.
I don’t really want it, to be perfectly honest. The joy that comes in the morning, that He replaces mourning with … it makes me nervous because that same voice that tries to make me feel like I’m not grieving right, it also tries to tell me that letting joy in means letting Rhett out. It sells me the fear that joy means moving on from missing Rhett, from feeling the ache of an empty chair at our family dinners, of feeling the weight of a broken world inside my heart. I’m not ready to give those things up. I don’t know that I’ll ever be ready truthfully. Thankfully, here’s the TRUTH of the matter: God, in His complexity that is beyond my greatest imagination, is a good Father stooping down to hand me a birthday gift. He’s the friend that’s felt all the feels and He gets it, the ache, the empty chair, the weight of a broken world, but He also sees up over them and into eternity up ahead.
For the past year and a half, it’s been quiet. I’ve pulled back and made friends comforts like Netflix and food. I’ve barely written, haven’t reached out to a lot of people. I’ve spent a lot of days walking the line of normal life on the outside and hazy fog on the inside. Now, hear me say that I think that was, for the most part, okay, maybe even necessary. You don’t get walloped by death and then stand up and run the next day. I am not the same person I was two years ago and I expect to carry grief with me the rest of my life – but I’ve sensed something shifting, something pushing up and around the grief recently. I feel a little bit like I’m waking up and I’m starting to get thirsting for people and the world again. I feel a tug toward stories again. Honestly I think it’s Jesus, knocking with joy in hand and trying to make me hear Him say, “You’ll carry him forever, but my love, you’ve got work to do and you can’t stay still and quiet and still get it done. Joy has to come in. I know you’re resistant, but do you know what joy brings with it? Strength. Fire. Thankfulness. You’ve seen the inside of grief, you’ve felt the cold, muddy bottom of its pits and I was there with you every moment. Now, I want you to know joy – not that happy-because-everything-always-goes-right feeling but joy – JOY. Joy that turns the light on deep below. Joy that hums and buzzes because of Me.”
Living pushed back and quiet is not supposed to last forever, I know. I’ve lived in that time for nearly a year and a half. I’ve felt all the hard as hell feels. I’ve let the grief in, knowing that the only way to get past it is to feel your way through it. And now, because joy seems adamant in its mission, I’m starting to believe that instead of replacing anyone or anything, joy means Jesus showing up every day and saying, “I’m here. I am bigger than your grief, I am stronger and more steady than your heaviest, darkest emotions. I’ve sat with you in every pit, we walked up and around the mountain of mourning – and I won’t stop joining you step for step, but I’m bringing joy with us now too.” I hear Him say it’s time.
What about you, friend? Are you waking up and feeling like it’s time as well? Is there something you sense God at work on that you are afraid of? You can trust His timing; it’s never wrong. You can trust His love; it’s always right. God chose you for something and every day He sits at the table, sleeves rolled up, ready to enter into that work with you. What an honor, right?
Let’s trust Him together. I’m standing just over threshold of 28, trying to uncurl my fists and lay them flat for what He wants to give, for what He wants to do. I don’t really know what to expect, but I’m moved by a God who loves me in such a way that He wants to spend a year teaching me about one small, three-lettered word. I’m choosing to trust that He knows what He is doing.
Joy comes in the morning, we’ll see, friends. We’ll see.