There’s nothing magical about the turn of a calendar page into a new year. We know this. But the arbitrariness of January 1st hasn’t dampened our collective enthusiasm over seeing 2020 come to an end, and it has never lessened my personal fervor for a January restart and all the potential that a new year holds.
Since 2015, I’ve inaugurated each January by choosing a one-Word theme that I hope to embody in the coming year. Past Words-of-the-Year have been Open, Integrity, Love, Grace, Abide, and Joy, and while I’ve had varying degrees of success in pursuing these themes, God has used every one to shape my experiences and growth throughout each year.
I began to contemplate my 2021 Word last fall. Presence and Rest both kept coming to mind, but neither felt quite right. Other options were Truth, Wisdom, and Nuance; all of these are valuable attributes—and all are qualities I hope to have more of in my life—but in praying over each potential Word, I didn’t feel God nudging me toward any of them.
As we inched into December, and still no Word had risen to the surface, I began to think that 2021 might be a Wordless year. (If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that the future is uncertain; maybe attempting to name One Word that would encompass an entire twelve months was a futile venture.)
My Word finally came to me at the Christmas Tree farm. Luke was strapping our selected tree to the roof of the 4Runner while I waited at the adjoining playground with the kids. As I mindlessly pushed the stroller around the sandbox, my gaze shifted from Charleston’s junglegym climbing to the perfectly lined row of trees behind him. Their dewy needles glimmered in the moonlight, angling branches casting shadows onto a manicured field rimmed with rustic wooden snowmen and quaint nativity displays.
I was struck by the beauty and poetry of the scene before me—the unique juxtaposition of natural grandeur and season-inspired creativity—and I felt a lack of such splendor in my everyday life. No, that wasn’t it, not if I was being honest. The beauty was there . . . I was just failing to take notice. But here it was again now, and I was filled with wonder.
WONDER. As I stood awestruck on that chilly December evening, the word flitted across my mind, landing in the space that had been waiting for my new year’s theme. I turned it over in my head, whispered it under my breath, even spoke it aloud. “Is this the word you have for me in 2021?” I silently asked God. And I felt His nudging me to a yes.
Wonder is a word of many meanings, and many potential manifestations. My Google search for a definition gave me this: “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.” Wonder is an awakening to magnificent enchantment, an intentional awareness of God’s presence and goodness, a recognition of exquisite splendor. It is a humble genuflection to awe in the midst of the Lord’s handiwork. And to pursue Wonder is to embark on a quest for miracles big and small, accepting God’s holy invitation to celebration and worship.
As a verb, to wonder is to be curious about something—another posture I hope to embody in 2021. When it comes to people, perspectives, and presented facts, I want to stop rushing to critical conclusions and instead respond with receptivity and a sincere desire to learn more. I want to cultivate a default practice of genuinely wondering about things before labeling them, refusing to take people or ideas at face value and granting them the thoughtfulness they deserve.
I read recently that cynicism springs from knowledge. This past year opened my eyes to so much brokenness in our world, and that awakening has indeed rendered me more cynical than I was one year ago. I’ve come to expect the worst, uneasily surprised when things go wrong. In 2021, that pessimistic attitude needs to go, and Wonder will be the antidote to my cynicism, a divine polish for my jaded soul and a reigniting of optimism and hope.
In my years of choosing One-Word themes, I’ve learned that my Words are what I make of them. There is more to selecting a theme than simply naming it and willing it into existence: if 2021 is to be a year of Wonder, it will require some intentionality. I will need to spend less time with my head buried in my phone and more time with my head up, eyes open to my surroundings; less time overthinking and more time dreaming; less effort and more hopeful expectation; less worrying and more contemplative prayer. This year, I will pursue Wonder with my mind and my spirit as I spend time studying the concept of wonder in books and in Scripture, and as I pray for eyes that see the wondrous world around me.
The moments of wonder have never been lacking; they are truly present in every crevice of my life: in the explosive sweetness of a ripened strawberry . . . the vibrant interplay of color in a Texas sunset . . . the impossible softness of Arlo’s downy ears . . . the poignance of a perfectly placed pun (and of artfully applied alliteration!) . . . Sully’s contagious giggle and Kali’s exuberant dance moves and Charleston’s proud beam when he reads a new word for the first time. I want to spend the coming year looking for these Wonder Moments, celebrating their appearance and responding with gratitude, marvel, and hope.
On Christmas Eve, our church congregation was introduced to a new verse of a familiar song. The lyrics were written for Christmas, but they can also serve as an anthem for this coming year of seeking Wonder:
“Be still my heart. Be still mind. May I still see the magic of that silent night. Fill me with wonder, keep mystery alive. May peace on earth be my song tonight.”
Amen, Lord. Let it be so.