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About five years ago, I came across the idea of Star Words. I think I learned about them in the Facebook group RevGalBlogPals, but I don’t remember for certain. I went in search of a word list I could use, and my husband and I typed each word onto star shapes, and then spent a week cutting out individual stars with the words on them. My hands ached so much from cutting around the star shapes that I didn’t care if I never used scissors ever again.

We invited anyone who wanted a Star Word at church to take one out of the basket. There’s nothing mystical about it, so if the word you selected didn’t connect with you, you could exchange it until you found a word that seemed right. The practice of choosing a Star Word lined up well with the popular practice of selecting a word for the new year, and I loved the invitation to choose that word in the context of worship.

I decided it would be fun to offer a Star Word to folks online too. Every year I’m amazed by how many people on Twitter would like a word chosen for them. This year, I have given out over 350 words (and counting). I love seeing the way each word connects (or doesn’t) with each person, and it is a joy when words bring comfort or a needed nudge to the person who receives them.

Every year as I’m giving out Star Words, at least one person asks me how the whole thing is supposed to work. There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to that question. (Because, as Sarah Bessey noted, one-size-fits-all really means it doesn’t fit anyone.) Instead of answering the question directly, I thought it might be helpful to share my Star Word with you along with some of my reflections on this word and what I’m taking from it into the new year.

My word this year is Build.

When I first drew this word, I went into problem-solving mode.

What am I supposed to build? Am I supposed to start something new? Should I be working harder?

My first inclination was that I was supposed to do something. I took the gift of a Star Word to reflect on, and I made it an item on my to-do list. Have any of you received your word for the year in this way?

But, as I sat with my word throughout the day yesterday, I suddenly remembered this verse from Psalm 127: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.” I can build and work and try all I want, but if the Lord isn’t building the house, I’m just wearing myself out. If I’m not allowing God’s work to be built first in me, I’m just spinning my wheels like the USPS mail truck stuck in the snow outside my house. (Don’t worry, we went and helped push his truck out.)

Star Words are not meant to be a guilt trip. They aren’t intended to be one more item to add to the never-ending list of things we ought to be doing. Instead, they are a gift to reflect upon and an invitation to receive what God is already doing in our lives.

One of my favorite things about Star Words is that they can be interpreted in many different ways. They may challenge us to push past our roadblocks and try something new. They may encourage us to receive God’s affirmation of what we’re already doing. They can comfort and annoy and urge us, sometimes all at the same time.

If you’ve got a word for the year, I would encourage you to hold it with open hands. Don’t bring to it all your expectatons for yourself or the self-judgment that diminishes the image of God in you. Instead, cradle it in your cupped hands and ask God to show you what the word means for you each day.

Lord, I’m always looking for ways to judge myself as not enough. As I hold my Star Word in my hands, remind me that the word you’ve already placed on me is “Beloved.” Comfort and encourage me with this Star Word. Show me the work that is mine to do, and help me to unburden myself of the work you never expected me to take on. In Jesus’ name – the one who is, who was, and who is to come. Amen.