WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

Next Year's Words

By Tim Atkins

In the background, letters are piled on a Scrabble board. In the foreground, someone holds the "C" tile as the letters "R E A T E" fall towards the board.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
―T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

New Year’s is without a doubt the most meaningful winter holiday for me. As a religious humanist, none of the other winter holidays have ever really called to me. But to me there’s something almost magical about the chance for a fresh start. A new beginning. The start of a new chapter.

One of my most treasured New Year’s traditions is coming up with a word for the year: a single word that I want to be the theme for my entire year. I started this practice five years ago, and it’s changed my life. It becomes a mantra I meditate on throughout the year. When I’m questioning what’s the right thing to do, I will look to my word of the year for guidance.

In 2017, my word was embrace.

In 2018, my word was explore.

In 2019 my word was delight. I was, putting it kindly, a stressed-out mess this time last year. I knew I needed to put myself first more, and reconnect with basic pleasures in life. So I went with “delight” as a way to help me be more mindful about finding joy and beauty in the everyday.

I’ve decided on my word for 2020: authenticity. I want to work more at being authentic to all parts of who I am and focus on living a unified life. And when in doubt over the upcoming year (because let’s face it, 2020 could be rough at times), I want to remember to be authentically me.

As a religious humanist, I also find it somewhat comforting to have this solid rock for my year. It forces me to focus in on a value I want to live my life around, and meditate on the value throughout the year. It forces me to put my values into practice, something we all could do a little more. When I look back on my last few years, instead of reflecting back on the years in terms of (usually negative) events, I reflect on them in terms of values and the amazing things I did that year to embody that value.

There are a lot of websites out there where you can look for more ideas for your word for the year, if you’re the kind of person to realize your word when you see it. Even if you think New Year’s Resolutions are a little hokey, I encourage you to try this word of the year idea. As a former skeptic, I can tell you if you take this idea seriously it will change how you see your entire year.

May we all be grounded in living our values in the coming year. May we all spread our wings to new heights in the coming year. May the fire of your commitment to your personal religious and ethical values burn brighter than before. And may we all be authentically ourselves in the coming year.