Around this time last year I hesitantly chose a word to be my theme for 2016—ask.
Looking back over the past year I can see times when I dug into asking. I asked questions of myself about who I am, what I believe, and what I want. I asked questions about the world around me and the ways things have always been done. I asked people questions and tried to really listen to their answers. I risked rejection and disappointment to invite others to work with me or be my friend.
There are also times when I defaulted to what felt easier in the moment—making assumptions, being alone, sticking to what I already knew.
I learned a lot from my year of asking, but there is so much asking yet to do. When I was considering a word for 2017, I wondered if maybe I should focus on ask again. It’s a word that will likely continue to stretch me for the rest of my life.
Isn’t that the case for many words we might choose?
As I thought more about whether I wanted to focus on ask again, my attention shifted to the other key word in my question—again.
Again doesn’t seem like the type of word normally chosen as a year theme. It’s not very pretty or exciting. The more the word tumbled around in my mind, however, the more it seemed like just what I need.
Part of me is afraid that in choosing again I risk being a bit boring. Doesn’t again imply that I’m covering old ground? Does it mean doing the same old thing and avoiding anything new?
But iteration doesn’t inherently mean monotony. Think of a child begging to go down the slide one more time or the pleasure of reopening the pages of a favorite book.
Maybe I’m most drawn by the fruits I believe again can bear. Resilience, growth, courage, faithfulness, wisdom, curiosity, consistency, connection, perseverance, depth, trust…just to name a few. These qualities don’t just magically appear in our lives. We build them and live them through showing up again and again.
Again may not be flashy, but it is how we form the foundation of our lives.
In part, choosing again is about continuing my focus on asking. I can already see that this year will be filled with questions. Many of the biggest questions in life aren’t resolved with one easy final answer, whether because the answer changes or because there are infinite depths to discover. That doesn’t mean questions aren’t worth asking. It’s easier to settle on an answer just to have one or to decide there is no answer so we can stop asking, but we learn so much as we wrestle with our questions again and again.
After doing something challenging, it’s tempting to retreat back to where I’m comfortable. While it is important to take care of myself, I don’t want to wait too long before trying that scary thing again. It is through repetition that we normalize what at first seems impossible. Stretching just outside our comfort zones again and again is how we grow them.
When I commit to taking the next step again and again instead of focusing on the outcome I’m hoping for, I develop the consistency and perseverance to keep moving toward my goals. I don’t have to do it all at once. It’s not about saving up for one grand gesture when I finally have it all figured out. Instead, again is about recognizing life is lived in the everyday. When I faithfully take the next step again and again, even when it’s uncomfortable, tedious, scary, or hard, I’m building something worthwhile.
Again isn’t only about repeating. It’s also about beginning. When I’m discouraged or distracted it’s easier to stay in a funk than to look for the next step to take. When I make mistakes, it’s easier to give up than to try again. The first step is often the hardest, but that doesn’t mean losing my momentum has to be a dead end. Sometimes we have to take that first trembling baby step once again.
At first glance a year of again may sound boring or too easy or limiting, but I can already see how it will challenge me in wonderful ways. This year I don’t need something flashy. I need to lay a foundation. I need to practice showing up again and again as faithfulness and resilience and perseverance and courage and all those other beautiful qualities become a part of who I am.
Do you choose a word or theme for the year? I usually think I won’t, but then other people share their words and my brain decides I should have one too. I have found it to be an interesting way to focus in on what I need in the near future.
I’d love to know your theme or goals or resolutions or whatever it is you do. If you’re not into the whole New Year’s thing (I have mixed feelings about it), what are you excited about right now? Where could you use some help?