Nothing seemed to be working as she hoped. The New Year came and went, and with it, her hope. “It’s going to be another year of uncertainty, and I don’t know how to get where I want to be,” she thought despairingly. Posture shifting, her face drooped and shoulders slumped as she rested her forehead in her palm. Clarity obscured, her dreams suddenly disintegrated into a sea of turbulent emotion and negative thoughts.
This could be me on any given day. With the continuing turmoil and unrest, if I’m not intentional, I could easily land in the pit of despair. The old me would already be there. But thankfully, with help from my counselor and other experts, I’m learning to recognize these feelings when they arise.
This is the first step in exploring emotions and thoughts—being present—so I can enter the year with purpose and intention instead of allowing circumstances to drown me in the torrent of negativity and chaos.
We become what we pay attention to. Curt Thompson
But how do we sense emotions and thoughts threatening a hostile takeover? I’ve discovered a few practices to help calm the craziness.
Starting my day in the presence of Jesus—seeking His wisdom and mercy, asking for His guidance to stay present and focused on things above (Col. 3:2).
It’s so easy to be distracted by all life throws at me, from news, social media, work, to-do lists to personal thoughts and emotions, but focusing on the goodness, beauty and truth of Jesus affords clarity, helping me stay peaceful and present to His gifts:
- The variegated blues of a sunlit sky
- A songbird’s morning greeting
- A loving embrace
- A chance encounter with a friend
I have a long way to go, but as I practice staying present—aware of my thoughts and surroundings—I become more peaceful.
Staying attentive to His plans and purpose for me by setting an intention, or word, for the new year.
A great way to discover what the Lord has for you in the new year is by praying for a word to focus on. Why a word? We gain focus to guide thoughts, actions and goals. Here’s how.
My word for this year is LISTEN. How did I come up with it? Through the practice of reflection. Looking back, I discerned:
- what worked
- what didn’t
- what was life-giving
- what was life-draining
- what I appreciated in others
- when I was frustrated with myself
- my goals
Connection, my word last year, meant connecting with God, people and nature. As I reflected on how I connected, I often felt disappointment regarding listening—mostly in myself, but in others as well—society now more distracted than ever.
Looking up words I considered in a dictionary/thesaurus, here’s what I discovered for listen:
- Give attention with the ear
- Attend closely
- Wait attentively for a sound
- Take notice
- Give audience
- Take advise
- Hear out
Wow, did I gain clarity! As I reflected and prayed, asking God to help me become a multi-dimensional listener—to Him, others and His creation, I knew this was my word; it’s beginning to make a difference in my attitude and attentiveness to God, others and myself. Additionally, I started praying the above synonyms for listen over myself and others. I struggle daily, but I’m working on becoming more attentive and observant this year!
I would love for you to try this, and to help you get started, here’s a list of words.
Focusing on a character trait of God monthly to keep me grounded in truth and His presence.
The character trait I chose for January is actually a verse from Psalm 103.
God is compassionate, gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
Shortly thereafter, I learned from my pastor that it’s the most quoted verse in the Bible! It’s in my prayer journal to meditate on for a few moments before reading and praying. I can’t tell you how much focus and clarity I’ve gained!
This week, find a character trait that’s meaningful to you, and write it somewhere you’ll see it, coming back to it throughout the day. This will change your thoughts, actions and shift your beliefs towards truth!
If we aren’t happy with where we are, change begins with our thinking—our focus. How often does my mind wander down rabbit trails leading straight to the pit? A thousand times daily, but I can shift my thoughts by coming back to the present moment. I can focus on a character trait of God. I can remind myself of my focus this year: listening. These 3 practices aren’t a quick fix; training the mind takes work, but it works! I’m a living testimony to this truth. God is in the transformation business, dear one!
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished… Phil. 1:6