For the past few years, I’ve participated in the practice of choosing a word for the new year. The first time I did it in 2017, I didn’t even realize this was a somewhat common practice. My New Year’s resolution was simply to be more joyful, so each day I woke up and was intentional about keeping that word at the forefront of my mind. Since 2017, I’ve chosen other words — confidence, strength and courage. Each word has come to define my year in a unique way. As 2021 came into view, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I want most from this year. My deepest desire is joy.
“A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin,” the American satirist H.L. Mencken once wrote. Now, I don’t think I’m quite bad, but as someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, it is easy for me to naturally tend toward cynicism. I assuage my conscience by asserting that I’m not pessimistic, just realistic. Whatever you want to call it, it’s not my favorite personality trait. It’s not a trait that brings the light of Christ to situations. And, though my sarcasm can certainly provide entertainment at times, I am not always someone who exudes warmth, lightness, hope, peace, positivity or zeal. But I want that to change.
These past few weeks, I’ve challenged myself to dig deeper. I don’t think that merely desiring joy will lead me to being naturally joyful. What’s preventing me from being joyful? Why do I lean toward pessimism, cynicism and realism? What foundation do I need to lay? After many nights praying about this as I dozed off to sleep, I realized that what I was lacking in my relationship with God is a profound trust in his providence, timing and promises.
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Not having a plan, feeling like things are out of control or unknown, is the surest way to guarantee that I am anxious. Yet 90% of life is out of our control and unknown to us. I remember when I was in grad school, living 1,000 miles away from home, I was always worried that I wouldn’t be home when my Grandma Joan passed. She was in her early 90s and had lived with my family since I was 14. Every few months I would ask my mom, “When do you think Grandma is going to die?” It sounds morbid, but what I was really asking was “Can you please make sure nothing bad happens to Grandma when I’m away, and if something bad does happen, what’s our plan?” Of course, my mom couldn’t answer that question. It was an answer known only to God — and God, in his goodness, brought my grandma home to him a year after I finished grad school when I was able to be with her every day in her final moments with us on this side of heaven.
Having a plan and being with people whom I trust makes me feel safe. When I feel safe, the tightness in my chest and muscles dissipates; rather than smiling through a clenched jaw, or being preoccupied with the time and what’s to come, I find myself being present to the moment, laughing easily and experiencing uninhibited joy.
On the one hand, I trust God. If someone were to ask me if they could trust God, I would quickly give them hundreds of examples of God’s faithfulness in my own life and in the life of others. But when it comes to applying that knowledge to my daily life, I fall short. Suddenly, I am Peter who, in taking my eyes of Jesus, starts to sink in the water. But what if, this year, I chose to focus my eyes on Jesus — even when it feels like I’m sinking? What if this year, I surrendered all my anxieties to the one who never betrays my trust, to him who has given me the deepest sense of peace and belonging, to my God who holds my future in his hands and whose plans have surpassed my deepest dreams and desires?
So this year, my word is trust, with a prayer that joy will flow freely from this intentional act.
Jesus, help me trust in you.