The Spiritual Discipline of One Word

That’s the word I’d use to sum up my year. It’s been a year of battles. Battling my wife. Battling myself. Battling God.

It’s a good thing for us that the battleground is a fertile place for God’s love in our lives.

there is no one like Jesus

In 2011, my anger ruled me more than I care to admit. I often felt helpless to control it, to rise above it. I felt like a beast. Primal. At times predator. At times preyed upon.

In January, when I wrote my annual blog post about prayerfully choosing one word to define the upcoming year, I felt encouraged by the word given to me by the Holy Spirit: closer.

I thought the word was a promise of deeper intimacy with Jesus. I hoped the word signaled the end of my depression. But that was me overlooking the layers in God’s Word, the complexity within the simplicity.

Even though the year is drawing down and closer is tied to 2011, it’s not a tie that immobilizes; it’s a tie that connects. The words we get each year are foundational words. They build the altar upon which we worship Christ, in word and action. They have relevance every year of our lives.

  • Obedience
  • Relationships
  • Reconciliation
  • Growth
  • Shine
  • Closer

I will continue to be shaped by closer, beyond December 31. It’s now a part of my name.

Even if we don’t experience the fullness of our word each year, at least in the ways we expect to, the year isn’t a failure. We aren’t failures.

I dare say we never will experience the fullness of this annual discipline as long as we assume the discipline is about us receiving something rather than about receiving someone — about receiving Jesus.

  • How did 2011 turn out for you?
  • What was your word for 2011, and what word has the Holy Spirit bestowed upon you for 2012?

Please take the time to let me know.

Prayerfully choosing one word that embodies the promise of the upcoming year is a discipline I picked up from Dan Britton, the executive vice president of ministry programs at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

I’ve chosen one word each year since 2006 and have been encouraging sponsors to join me in the practice since 2008.

For 2012, my word is thanksgiving.

For important points to consider before beginning this spiritual discipline read Dan’s essay, One Word.

64 Comments |Add a comment

  1. Nancy January 10, 2012

    In 2010, I joined Ann Voskamp’s Gratitude Community and chose the word “See” as my word for that year. Praying for eyes to see God’s abundant blessings and counting them with Ann was a truly life-transforming experience. That experience was my introduction to blogging.

    In 2011, I chose the word “believe.” I came to faith at a very young age and have grown up knowing all the Bible stories. I memorized lots of scripture, and have taught Bible studies in King James, NIV, ESV–you name it. My challenge was in actually believing, and living like I believed the things I professed.

    This year, my word is “drink.” Having had God open my eyes to His abundant blessings, and asking for faith to believe those things I profess, I now want to drink in more of God’s abundant goodness. I want to splash around in the lavishness of it, and want to see streams of living water overflow from my heart and spill out onto others. I hope to be mindful this year of the abundance of safe, clean water I have available to me, and am excited about sponsoring a Compassion child as a tangible way of allowing God’s goodness to flow through me.

  2. Chris K January 5, 2012

    No word for 2011. I toyed with the idea, but I was too deeply mired in anger, grief, depression and despair to even try. Everything was so dark. This year, the darkness is still lingering. The pain is still suffocating at times.

    I have spent the past month serving others – working with a local ministry before Christmas and going on a mission trip the week after – distractions from the anger, grief, depression and despair. While in Belize, I was praying for God to continue holding me. Loving me. Showing himself to me clearly. And for a word to help keep me anchored this year. Something to cling to during these seemingly endless dark nights of the soul.

    I met a woodcarver in Belize and asked him to make me a cross necklace with a word carved on it. I have been toying with two different words – similar yet different … surrender and trust. Trust was the one carved onto my cross.

    I think that is the one the holy spirit is calling me to.
    Trust – that the pain will go away.
    Trust – God does love me
    Trust – I have been forgiven
    Trust – the darkness won’t last forever
    Trust – God will catch me

  3. Molly January 3, 2012

    limbo. Althought I made several steps closer to him i still felt in limbo

  4. Lizzie January 1, 2012

    well, I did not know of this last year. But, looking back, I would have to say that TRUST was a huge part of my past year. I learned to trust God and not people. People fail, God doesn’t. Also one verse kept popping up throughout the year- Romans 1:20. It has to do with trust or belief or even faith one might say. But this year I will be doing BEAUTY. Peter 3:3-4. The beauty of a gentle, meek, and quiet spirit. I am a teen, and I don’t wear “cool” clothes. I saw this verse the other day, and I think it will help me a lot this year and the next and so on.

  5. Skip Crust December 31, 2011

    Hey Chris, I’ve been doing this with you for the last several years. It’s become such a huge blessing to me since you introduced it to me over chicken picatta in my kitchen. In 2012, my word is silence.


    I think I should end my comments with nothing else.

    1. Chris Giovagnoni December 31, 2011

      And that night my word was more. Yum!

  6. Jodi M December 31, 2011

    This is a great idea that I’ve never heard of before! Here it is with just over 8 hours left before the New Year, but I am confident the Holy Spirit will help me solidfy my word in that time. The two that keep coming to mind are hope and Emmanuel (God with us). (I’m almost afraid to make my word patience!)

  7. Katie Axelson December 31, 2011

    My word for 2011 was: faithful. It wasn’t one I chose myself but rather it kept catching my eye, drawing my attention, and crossing my path. It was a good one!

    For 2012, I’ve chosen hope. And I wrote about why:


  8. Kelly Westlund December 29, 2011

    My word for 2011 was Trust…and boy, did I ever get chances for that this past year. My husband and I separated, my mother is no longer speaking to me…but through it all, my Rock showed me I could trust in Him. So many different frustrations, hurts, problems…yet God brought me through. And as I move on from just surviving to healing….my word for 2012 is Shine. God spoke it to me one morning not too long ago, very clearly. It gives me hope! I don’t know how He will ask me to Shine for Him, but I am looking forward to finding out!

  9. Anne December 21, 2011


  10. Amanda December 21, 2011

    I haven’t pick out a word for this year yet. Out of curiosity…
    what do the words “no hay como dios” mean (from the
    picture that went with this post)?

    From my old spanish class I think
    no hay – don’t have
    como – with
    Dios – God

    But this doesn’t sound right. Can someone correct me please?

    1. Chris Giovagnoni December 21, 2011

      There is no one like God

      1. Gail December 21, 2011

        I like that 🙂

  11. Gail December 20, 2011

    Thanks for your honesty and the reminder Chris.

    Someone at Compassion Australia emailed Dan’s document on One Word around a few years back and in that year my word was “Intentional”. I painted it in big letters and stuck it on my bedroom wall to remind me each day to be intentional with the time and resources God gave me and it was life changing.

    Then I forgot about the One Word – oops! So thanks for the reminder, I am looking forward to asking God for a word for 2012.

    Looking back on my 2011 I would sum it up with the word “grief” – not as pleasant as some words but this is what my year has been on many different levels and God has revealed His love to me in unique ways in this winter season of grief. For that I am thankful.

    1. Linda December 21, 2011

      I just read Chris’ post and the word ‘intentional’ popped into my head too! But then I read his essay and figured I’d better pray about it before making a decision. I’m pretty sure God did the “popping” though! I am grieving as well, for the loss of my husband, but also as I look back over my life for the loss of years that have not been lived intentionally…..I’m going to go ahead and choose it. May 2012 be a year lived for His glory and according to His plan as I intentionally follow Him.

  12. Maria December 20, 2011

    My word for 2011 was Surrender. Here was my post back in January.

    Surrender. It’s all about giving everything to Him and always pursuing him. He already paid the price and took the burden upon Himself. I need to leave things at the cross and keep them there.

    Courtesy of Compassion International:

    This 2012, my word is Deeper. I am challenging myself to go deeper with God, deeper into the word, deeper in my ministries, and deeper in love with Jesus.

  13. Katie Axelson December 20, 2011

    My word for 2011 was “faithful.” It was both as a promise from God and a promise to God. I have seen His faithfulness (and at times my unfaithfulness).


  14. Mike Stephens December 20, 2011

    My word is staying the same…Second as in “walk the second mile with the Roman soldier” b/c I don’t think I took it seriously last year. I barely remembered it at all! So hopefully this year I will put it into practice 😉

  15. Lacey December 20, 2011

    Thank you for posting this. Each year my husband and I do a word too, and have been since
    2011-God is with us.
    Each year God completely shows up, and I agree, it never looks like what we imagined. For example, prosperity ended up being us having another baby, and peace meant having peace in the midst of some serious storms. But this year, 2011, was my favorite “word” of all, even though it ended up being a phrase. For most of the year, we had 3 children under 3 years old (at the end of Oct. our oldest turned 4). It was so kind of God to remind me that he was with me, even in the midst of the chaos. Because of Him alone, somehow I found joy amongst the loss of sleep and the mountain of laundry and dirty diapers. It also caused me to perk up a little more each time I ran across that phrase in the Bible…good things come whenever God is with us.
    Over the weekend I had the unique opportunity to spend a night in a cabin in the woods. Watching the stars and the moon turn into the dawn of day, God showed me the wonder of His creation in a way I rarely experience. I decided that I’m ready to take the next step in my walk with him, go deeper, experience more of Him. That’s when he gave me my word for 2012. Awe. I am excited to see how that plays out.

    1. Barb December 20, 2011

      Doesn’t “Immanuel” mean “God is with us”?

    2. Chris Giovagnoni December 20, 2011


  16. Judy December 20, 2011

    My word for 2011 was pray.
    My word for 2012 is surrender.

  17. Britney December 20, 2011

    My word for 2011 was patience. You can imagine how much fun that was.

    I’m not sure what my word will be for 2012. I haven’t even thought about asking God for a new word. I’m still trying to be patient!!

  18. Brad December 20, 2011

    My word for 2012 is urgency. My word for 2011 was heal.

  19. Jennifer December 20, 2011

    I had never heard having “one word” for a year, but even so, january of last year God began laying the word “seek” on my heart. It was after that that I read on another blogger’s blog a post about having one word for the year. You know, God used that one word to shape my year in amazing ways. With each struggle I faced, I was reminded to “seek”. Great post!

    1. Chris Giovagnoni December 20, 2011

      Which blogger was it?

  20. Christine December 20, 2011

    Love this post. My husband had an angry year as well. We had financial hardship, a serious diagnosis for our three year old, and continued difficulties with our nine-year-old’s issues. My husband desperately wanted a blessing from God, not more problems. I think men grieve with more anger and women grieve with more sadness?

    I am reading Wild At Heart: Discovering the Secrets of a Man’s Soul, by John Eldredge (for a series on discipling boys). Have you read it? It talks about a man’s anger and wounds and how to heal.

    You bless us all through this blog and I pray for peace and joy for you, Chris. You are close to Him, it seems to me. I know my husband is close to Him too, even though he also experiences anger.

    Still praying for a word for 2012.

    Merry Christmas, Chris and his family!

    1. Chris Giovagnoni December 20, 2011

      [quote comment=”36551″] I think men grieve with more anger and women grieve with more sadness.[/quote]

      I think you’re right.

      I read Wild at Heart six years ago. It influenced my thoughts on the importance of names, and I spent a lot of time praying to the Lord about my name.

      The Holy Spirit gave me Ephesian 5:8 as an answer and the name Love Giver and Teacher, which is why my battles with anger this year have been particularly hard. I’m so far away from living my name in my daily life and for my family.

      I’ll break out my copy of Wild at Heart in January and give it another read. I’d like to see what Eldredge says about healing anger.

      Thanks Christine

      1. Christine December 20, 2011

        I like your word for this year. I think some people, the glass half-full ones, find thankfulness a breeze. It’s also easy for us half-full personalities to judge the half-empty personalities and label them ungrateful. I have often thought if my husband could only count all the small blessings given to us daily, and thank God for them, then all his anger would melt away.

        Ann Voskamp’s book was lying around here at the beginning of the year. He was intrigued enough to read some of it. I was so happy and thought it would change his life. But as I have watched him and others I know who are glass half-empty people, I think it isn’t so simple. We do them a disservice by not understanding their place in balancing us. God balanced my marriage by having me, a glass half-full person, marry a glass half-empty person.

        My husband wrestles with God too, like you describe at the beginning of your post. I just wonder if that is another way of relating to God–wrestling with Him until he blesses us. Pursuing him, even in anger. I accept what God gives and thank him for the small blessings. I don’t pursue him for more. My husband wants more and he beseeches God for it. His prayers are deep groanings of the spirit almost. Where’s the joy, I sometimes wonder, as I listen to him pray. Shame on me!

        My goal this year in my marriage is to stop judging my husband’s anger….stop assuming it is a character flaw. I just wonder if it is more a personality type. I need to give him room to relate to God in his own way…to relate to pain and suffering in his own way. I need to accept him with open arms, regardless of his anger. He needs my respect and love, more than a personality makeover. Maybe as he receives more of my respect and love, some of the anger will melt away naturally?

        Just my thoughts on this. Still trying to figure it out here. If you write your list of 1000 gifts this year, let us know how it goes.

        1. Chris Giovagnoni December 21, 2011

          My wife is a glass half-full person too, and some of our battles have been around our different perspectives in looking at life, prayer, etc.

          I picked up Ann’s book a few weeks back and really like it. I’ve tweeted a few quotes from it and even tweeted five or six things I’m thankful for. But then another aspect of my personality switched on, which is the one where I lose site of why I’m doing something and get caught up in the tracking of it (e.g., it becomes more about the list than the things making up the list).

          When that happens I grapple with whether I’ truly thankful or I’m just ambitious – trying to fill out the list. Sometimes I think too much. 🙂

          When I opened Ann’s book I definitely felt like the Holy Spirit had a message for me in her words. It was the prompting that made me feel my word for 2012 is thanksgiving.

          My wife is reading the book at the same time and has said it’s one of the best books, if not the very best, she has ever read.

          We’ll have a few blog posts inspired by One Thousand Gifts in the next few weeks. It’s definitely an inspiration.

          I’ll say a prayer for you and your husband, for understanding and acceptance of your differences, for a closer relationship with each other and with God because of your differences, for contentment and thanksgiving (whatever that may look like for each of you individually), for love and respect to abound in your marriage and for the anger to be lifted away and replaced by peace.

          Then I’ll say ditto for my wife and I.

          1. Christine December 22, 2011

            Thank you! I will pray too.

  21. K-eM December 20, 2011

    I’d say that the word that sums up my 2011 is “rebuilding” and my word for 2012 is probably “forgiveness”.

  22. Jacquie Parella December 20, 2011

    Lately I’ve heard multiple sermons on the power of thanksgiving and praise, so I love that your word for the year is thanksgiving. My word for 2012 is ‘rest.’ Hopeful for 2012!

    1. Chris Giovagnoni December 20, 2011

      Don’t rest just yet. Program some more blog posts.

  23. Andrea Ward December 20, 2011

    I wrote about my One Word extensively here:

    It was hope for 2011. I felt like I got a great start, but I didn’t finish well. However after working through my thoughts for the above post, I’m realizing there is more to this hope stuff than I thought. So I guess I did pretty okay with hope.

    I am very intimidated to start 2012 with a new word. I’m just barely starting to grasp hope and the Holy Spirit has given me another word. I’m not sure I can do it. Strike that. I know I can’t do it. I have to let God work through me with this word because after all it isn’t about me. It is about Him.

    My word for 2012: Faithful

    1. Chris Giovagnoni December 20, 2011

      Hope still applies in 2012. You’ll get a firmer hold on it as you also grasp on to Faithful.

  24. Jill Foley ~ Compassion Family December 20, 2011

    My word for 2011 was QUIET….the lessons I learned don’t really stand out, they are “quiet” ones (appropriate I guess).

    Still praying about my word for 2012, but it’s looking like it will be LISTEN, which seems to follow quiet well.

    1. Chris Giovagnoni December 20, 2011

      [quote comment=”36535″]My word for 2011 was QUIET….the lessons I learned don’t really stand out, they are “quiet” ones [/quote]

      That’s the type of thing I’m talking about. There are layers to the words we’re given, even amusing ones.

  25. Lisa Miles December 20, 2011

    “We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.” ~Edith Lovejoy Pierce

    My word for 2012 is CONSISTENT = possessing firmness and coherence; marked by harmony, regularity, or steady continuity.

    I didn’t pick out a word for 2011, but in hindsight I would call 2011 FRUITFUL.

  26. Gayle December 20, 2011

    I appreciate your honesty in this article and being real. My word this past year was blessed. It is the first year I have done a word and I agree with you, I have made this word a part of me. This year I have had wonderful experiences and deep struggles, mainly with caring for my mother who has dementia and is moving to the end of her life. But at the end of the day, I am blessed. Next year my word is loved. Let us see what the Spirit reveals in the word.

    1. Chris Giovagnoni December 20, 2011

      Thank you for sharing Gayle and for your compliment.

  27. Noah Barnett December 20, 2011

    Chris, I appreciate your honesty and your heartfelt reflection in this post.

    My one word for this year has been “contentment” and I feel that each week I teeter back and forth from living this daily to being frustrated and sometimes angry with where I am at.

    I know that I will continue to seek contentment in where God has placed me and what He has given to me. I have come to redefine it as being “passionately content,” as this has better helped me understand what God means by being content, but still driving action.

    Appreciate the post Chris and a great one as we head towards the end of 2011.


    1. Chris Giovagnoni December 20, 2011

      Thanks Noah. Contentment is a good word.

  28. lia December 20, 2011

    One word: loving

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