A word for 2017

One of my favorite parts of a new year is choosing a new word to grow in.  I have goals (quite a few, actually....) and I really appreciate having a single word to focus on.  2016's word was courage and it was a good one for so many reasons.  I'm not entirely letting go of it and certainly not saying that I've attained the full measure of courage and boldness.  I have, if anything, become more aware of how difficult it is to choose the course of action that takes more courage and that I cannot expect that I'll do it by default.

Anyway.

It's 2017 now, and time for a new word.

photo by Nathan Anderson

Prodigal.

Does it sound like a strange choice to you?  It does to me.  It's not really a word with positive connotations.  My computer's dictionary offers the following definitions: spending money or resources freely and recklessly, having or giving something on a lavish scale; a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way.  It also references the story of the prodigal son.  And who wants to be like him?

Not me.

And yet I've been increasingly confronted with truth as I study through Matthew.  I am him.  Or maybe even less flatteringly, I'm the older brother.  I see myself reflected in the Pharisees all the time.  I empathize with all of their control-freak questions: Hey, why are You healing on the sabbath?  Why do Your disciples eat with unwashed hands?  Don't they know the laws?  Don't You know the laws?  I like life to be safe, with clearly defined boundaries.  No risks.  I want a syllabus so that I know I can get straight A's, so that my relationships will all be wonderful, balanced, challenging (just a bit), and refreshing, so that I don't have to question choices that I make or live with regrets.

I want to be perfect and to be able to say that I made myself that way.

I would have been with Paul, a "Pharisee of Pharisees."  So sure of myself, so self-righteous, that you could choke on it.

It's been good to have that inclination of my heart dragged out into the light over and over.  Because I also know that self-justification is not what I want.  I can't live with that weight.  I can't live up to His standards.  And so my attempts at keeping all the laws and getting straight A's instead end up with me  failing epically and deserving to be kicked out of the school.

Over and over, I've seen the differences between the attitude of the Pharisees and the actions of Jesus that made them so uncomfortable, so condemning, so ready to kill Him to get Him out of the way.  He did things that seemed risky.  He cared more about the heart of the Father as closely as possible than staying as far away from breaking the commandments as possible.  What a rebel!  He ate with tax-collectors and prostitutes.  He had disciples who were on all sides of basically every possible spectrum: a Zealot and a tax-collector.

I've been stunned by seeing the prodigal goodness of the Father.  He shows mercy and grace to the least deserving, to those who spit in His face, to those who take it entirely for granted.  Because of His incredible love, we're set free to take risks, knowing that there will always be a place at His table for us.  Our place doesn't depend on perfectly living in accordance with all of his commands; there is room for real failure, repentance, and forgiveness.  He had poured out goodness in my life beyond what I can comprehend: mountains, friends, the ability to travel, stories, music, food, family, new day after new day.  I want to learn to be more like Him -- to give freely, extravagantly, recklessly, knowing that I do not have to fill myself or justify myself.

So although it makes me uncomfortable -- even scares me -- my word for 2017 is prodigal

And I am extremely curious to see what this year holds. :)

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