For the last two years my mom and I have rang in January 1st with the One Word devotional.
The idea is simple: focus your attention on one word for the entire year. This is not just any word however. There is no reaching your hand into a bowl and pulling out one of 20 words you and your friends wrote on scraps of paper, and there is no eyes closed scroll and point in the dictionary. No, the word doesn’t even come from you, and it is often the last word you might expect.
Leading up to the start of 2016, I was feeling very overwhelmed. My finances were a disaster and I was constantly worried about whether I’d be able to make loan and rent payments on time, let alone afford groceries and the electric bill. So you can imagine my surprise when I came to find my “one word” was give.
As in, take what I have (which I felt was very little) and pass it on.
I mean, seriously? This had to be a joke.
But there was no denying I was seeing and hearing the word everywhere: in movies, on signs at the grocery store, in almost every casual conversation. I started to wonder if I was making myself crazy, or if perhaps this was all some elaborate prank by my subconscious. Give couldn’t be my word. No. I was pretty sure God wanted to give me a much better word like “whimsy” or “quesadillas.” Spread the good word with quesadillas, Kim! Let that light shine through layers and layers of cheese!
Unfortunate spoiler alert: it wasn’t quesadillas.
About a week after I finished the devotional, I was standing in the middle of my kitchen, knife in hand as I made myself a sandwich for lunch. I was listening to a podcast recommended to me by a friend, when suddenly the host started repeating herself. “Give give give,” she said, “that’s all you can do is give give give.” I couldn’t help it, I laughed. “Really?” I said out loud. Then I set my knife down and leaned my hands into the counter, letting my head fall, my chin hitting my chest. I thought about the balance in my bank account, a number I constantly found myself focusing on, and I thought about the bills that were sure to be on their way. A tear pooled up in the corner of my eye and fell, wetting the paper towel my unfinished sandwich lay on.
“But…” I said aloud, “but what if I don’t have anything to give?”
Suddenly a feeling of peace washed over me, not only relaxing me, but reminding me of the word I’d focused on in the previous year: trust. It too had been a difficult word to accept, as the events leading up to the start of that year had knocked me down hard and left me feeling broken. But now, as I stood in my kitchen a year later, stronger and more confident in my relationship with God than I’d ever been, I was again reminded that He doesn’t make mistakes. This new word was not a joke, and the order in which I’d been given the two words was purposeful.
I nodded slowly. “Okay,” I said, “I trust you.”
A few days later, I doubled my weekly tithes, assuming it was a safe first step. In church, one of the most obvious forms of giving is through Sunday offering, and so I figured, why not show God I’m up to the challenge of “give” by leveling up in that very area of my spiritual life?
“I get it,” I told God, “you just wanted me to trust you with more of my finances. Lesson learned.” Mic drop.
[Insert God laughing here]
As you can probably guess, this wasn’t the lesson. And while this shouldn’t have surprised me, I still found myself frustrated when I realized God wanted more from me, much more.
Over the next few months, I started trying to do extra favors for people. I wrote encouraging notes here, I bought small gifts there; I did my best to give people more. And while at first it seemed straight forward: I give, they say thank you, I began to realize the many different ways I could give and even more, the many different things I was receiving in return. In making people happy, I was given happiness. In offering people compliments, I was given compliments. In serving others, I was given humble gratitude.
So often when we are put into a position to give something we’d rather not, be it tangible things: money or gifts, or intangible things: patience, encouragement or respect, we do so with the sole intent of getting something back. But with this intention comes expectations and with expectations often come dissatisfaction. And though we’d like to blame the dissatisfaction on the ungrateful nature of those whom we believed we did a great service to, it instead stems from our failure to give properly and even more, our inability to receive.
When God handed me “give”, or rather wrapped it up in a box, left it on my doorstep and rang the doorbell 12 times, I thought: I don’t have much, if anything, to give. But when I really started to commit to it, I realized I have absolutely everything to give and even more to receive.
It wasn’t always easy. In fact, there were times when I found myself at a loss, telling God that I honestly and truly couldn’t find a way to keep giving. I was tired, I was stressed out, I was hungry. Remind me again why you couldn’t have given me the word quesadillas?
But every time I was met with doubt or attempted to push the word aside to prioritize those I’d rather focus on, God always found a way to bring it back to the forefront of my attention, once again reminding me how much I’d received from “give.”
Now, as the Year of Give comes to a close, I sit, patient and confident in the new path God will lead me down in 2017. I don’t know what it will look like or the trials that await me in its curves, but I know it will serve an important purpose. For I wouldn’t have been able to make it through this year if I hadn’t first gone through the last. In learning to trust I was able to give and in giving I was able to receive more than I ever knew was possible.