This is the twelfth year I'm choosing One Little Word (OLW) to focus on for the new year. My previous choices have been LOOK in 2009, LOVED in 2010, TRUST in 2011, HEAL in 2012, SHALOM in 2013, GARDEN in 2014, UNAFRAID in 2015, LOVED in 2016, ROOTED in 2017, ENOUGH in 2018, and POSSIBILITY in 2019. Each year, I've written here about what I hope to see in the twelve months ahead, and each year I've ruefully admitted that I just keep on being me, with all the same stuff. I just hope I'm making some progress somewhere.
Here's last year's post on POSSIBILITY.
I reflected on the year as a resident of Haiti, and on why a better choice might have been FUTILITY or perhaps IMPOSSIBILITY or DESPAIR.
As I was thinking about those words, I focused especially on the last one. In French it's désespoir
, the opposite of hope, un-hope. Hopelessness. I don't really want that to be my focus for the shiny new year, so unspoiled and fresh. So I decided to take a leap and go against the way things feel, choosing HOPE for 2020. Not because I'm full of hope or see lots of newness or solutions on the horizon to Haiti's political and economic impasse, but because I'm going to have to look outside myself, to seek hope where it's not obvious.
Last year in my OLW post, I quoted Henri Nouwen on hope. "I have found it very important in my own life," Nouwen writes, "to try to let go of my
wishes and instead to live in hope. I am finding that when I choose to
let go of my sometimes petty and superficial wishes and trust that my
life is precious and meaningful in the eyes of God something really new,
something beyond my own expectations begins to happen for me. To wait
with openness and trust is an enormously radical attitude toward life.
It is choosing to hope that something is happening for us that is far
beyond our own imaginings. It is giving up control over our future and
letting God define our life. It is living with the conviction that God
molds us in love, holds us in tenderness, and moves us away from the
sources of our fear."
I love the largeness of Nouwen's vision, but it's not easy to grasp on a daily basis. There are so many outcomes I hope for, and pray for, and don't see coming to fruition (in Haiti and in my own life). But to simply let go, and trust God with a more open-ended hope for His purposes to be achieved: that's more challenging. I tried it last year, and I try it every year, and I'm going to try it again this year.
And in case I feel like being less theological, HOPE is also the thing with feathers, as Emily Dickinson wrote:
"Hope" is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I've heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked - a crumb - of me.
On second thought, I'm not so sure that's any less theological. But at any rate, I've been thinking a lot lately about the things with feathers, as my interest in birds has grown. 2019 seemed pretty hopeless for the birds, as a study came out
showing that the bird population of the U.S. and Canada decreased in the past 50 years by about 2.9 billion breeding adults, or 29%. Those are some sickening statistics, and yet if you follow that link to the study, you'll see that it immediately switches the focus from the sickening to the hopeful: "Bring Birds Back." There are so many things that can be done to improve the outlook for these "things with feathers" with which we share our planet. And the birds themselves, the hardy survivors, seem to have been doing some adjusting of their own: this article from last month's Discover magazine
reports that all the species studied had decreased in size over the past 40 years (you've got to read about how they found this out - it is so fascinating). The scientists analyzing this data hypothesize that the reason for the smaller sizes is the increasingly warm temperatures in the birds' habitats.
What's to be learned from this, things with feathers? Anything that can help me be more hopeful in this coming year, in spite of obstacles and circumstances beyond my control? I'll think about it.
Ultimately, though, I don't believe having hope is about me; I think it's about God working in me. In Romans 15:13, Paul writes: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." It's by looking outside myself, by turning to God, that I can have hope this year.
is hosting a roundup
of the OLWs chosen by my Spiritual Journey Thursday pals. Here's
a list at Two Writing Teachers of contributors' choices. What about you? What's your OLW for 2020?