I saw something that someone posted on social media that said, “Even if 2021 doesn’t change, I can still change” – and I loved it. Everyone was so eager for 2020 to be gone – so sure that this new year would be way better than the last. But we have to be realistic about the fact that COVID isn’t magically gone, politics are still making people angry, and there’s just as much unrest in the world as there always has been. My guess is that 2021 might get a little better than 2020, but it’s highly unlikely to be a fairy tale ending.
But whatever else is happening in the world, I can still focus on how I want to grow and change. And that’s my desire as I think about the word “growth” for this year. This is now my fourth year of choosing a word to guide my focus for the year, and I’m grateful for all the things I’ve discovered about each word I’ve chosen in the past three years.
And I realize that we grow every year, but this past year was so much about survival that I didn’t have the bandwidth to focus on intentional growth. I wasn’t in a mental place to track habits, set goals, work on them, or celebrate progress. I simply had to allow myself to ride the waves of grief, disappointment, adaptation, and anxiety.
Now that I’m on the road to healing, I feel more ready to embrace intentional growth in my life again. Last month I started tracking my habits again and spent more time reading than I had in a long time. I was able to think through some specific goals I have for my reading, writing, and health, and begin to move toward them.
As I thought about what word I might want to pick for this upcoming year, nothing was coming to mind, so I considered picking a different word for each month. Then I bought my new little planner for this month, all decked out in succulents, and it had the phrase, “Growing Together” on the front. And I knew – my word needed to be growth.
Yet along with that came some hesitation. I know my tendencies to get excited about goal-setting and goal-accomplishing in January – to hit them hard, then get exhausted by all of them come February. So I thought I would pick a secondary word for each month to go along with growth to help focus it in different directions.
And for the month of January, that secondary word is: progress. Growth doesn’t happen all at once. Most of the time it’s imperceptible, and we don’t realize it’s happened until we look back. But in making small choices every day, we’re moving ourselves closer to that growth. Some days we’ll be too tired to make those choices, and we might have to rest. But it’s all part of the progress, and in the end, if we’ve moved a few more feet closer to our goal, we’ve grown.
I want to practice these intentional small steps of progress in the month of January. I want to allow myself grace in times when I feel too overwhelmed by life to grow much at all. And I want to challenge myself to go a little further when I feel like being lazy or apathetic towards growth.
It’s a gift to have the motivation return and the energy to tackle those goals again, and I’m grateful every day that I have it. As I look to grow in studying the Bible, memorizing Scripture, reading good books to challenge my mind, being more disciplined in my writing, exercise, and nutrition habits, I hold them with an open hand, knowing that any progress I make is a gift from God. I’ve seen how quickly that motivation can disappear when your brain switches into grief and survival mode, and I know it’s not a guarantee to have it on any given day.
But when it is there, I pray to be faithful with it so as to honor God with this gift of one life that He’s given me. He Himself gives us the command in Ephesians 4:15 – “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.” God desires that we grow in our maturity and wisdom, in our faith and obedience to Him, and in our commitment to the body of Christ.
I pray that this year – no matter what challenges come my way – I would obey that command to grow. And that I wouldn’t glory in my own efforts and successes, but that I would give the honor and glory back to Christ. He’s the One finishing the good work He began in me. I’m excited to see where He takes me this year.
Image taken from Unsplash.