At our house, birds play a role in our day. Snuggled up close to the house, one cylindrical feeder attracts smallish birds, often finches, the tufted titmouse, and an occasional downy woodpecker. The nearby feeder, filled only in warmer weather, offers nourishment to tiny brightly-colored ruby-throated hummingbirds.


A dozen or so feet out from the house, three feeders cater to myriad birds whose plumage, size and shape vary. 


I love the fact that Jesus invites us to engage in the world around us as part of our path to growing in our life with God. “Behold the birds of the air,” Jesus says in Matthew 6:26. Behold, a rather old-fashioned word for look, see, perceive, observe, view, directs us to pay attention. Around here, the rhythm of paying attention to birds flows through our days. They bring beauty to our breakfast table as they nibble on one side of the window while we nibble on the other side of it. 


Over soup or salad, we watch them splash in the birdbath, or notice their bewildered look when it’s become a frozen miniature pond. We can count on brown thrashers, Northern Cardinals, and Carolina wrens to sit on the branches of the crepe myrtle tree or among pink and white camellias, waiting their turn at the feeders. Migratory birds send us scouring well-worn field guides to discover a unique visitor. Painted buntings garner shouts of delight. 


For Christmas, my husband, a long-time birder, usually receives some gift that involves his avian friends. Family and friends know birds rate high on his list of favorite things. Reading one of his birding magazines, I ran across a from-scratch recipe for a suet-like mixture. Such things are helpful for birds when winter curtails easy food findings. Those ingredients ended up filling one gift box under our Christmas tree. 


In the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, my husband stirred melted lard and peanut butter together, blending it with a plethora of items, such as chicken feed and cornmeal. We were convinced our feathered friends would delight in this special treat.


Yet they did not seem to grasp the gift we were offering them. 


So, we observed, gathering information. Which birds were curious? Which were not? Was it the food offered, the location of the new food, or the time of day we offered it? What exactly were the obstacles? 


Watching our backyard birds alone wasn’t enough. We pondered what we noticed. Reflection led to different choices as we experimented.


It took our feathered friends a while to catch onto the goodness of the gift concocted just for them. It turned out that our backyard birds appreciated the mixture best when it was scattered on the ground in the morning. They turned up their beaks when the new treat appeared in the usual tray where their familiar birdseed resided. 


At the same time all of this was happening, the new year rolled in, full of folks declaring hopes, dreams, goals, resolutions, or their word of the year.


I’m not quite sure when picking a personal word of the year became the thing to do. Back in 1990, an English professor, Allan Metcalf, thought that if there was a person of the year, maybe there should also be a word of the year. And that trend took off, moving from institutions to personal words at some point in the last three decades.


Initially, I didn’t hop on the trend of “What’s your word?” Yet a few years back on one cold January dawn, God offered me a word. At first, I was a bit like our backyard birds: unsure what this gift had to do with me when I was quite familiar with other ways to start the year. I was slow to engage with this new offering.


I examined the word, using a dictionary and thesaurus to parse it. Though knowledge helped in some small ways, that head-knowledge investigation didn’t reveal much about how to engage with it. 


I might have chosen a different word for myself, so what was God up to in the offering? 


When I began to reflect on the word of the year God offered, it opened an ongoing dialogue with Jesus. That prayerful reflection shifted my perspective. 


Over time that first year, I discovered the goodness of the gift being offered. It took some rearranging of perspective. What I didn’t need was more head knowledge. What I needed was time to reflect and to see the invitation from God in the word itself. 


Since then, I’ve learned to notice, watch, and observe the word, listen in with wonder, and reflect. As the year unfolds, so too does the meaning of the word unfold. “Jesus, what do You have to say about this word?” Slowly the depth of it is revealed. 

At times, Jesus whispers the given word right at a moment when I most need it. The word acts as a steady reminder of His presence or a reminder of my besetting sins or besetting strengths. The word, whatever it is, becomes a way to turn my gaze to His love for me as well as a place to pursue spiritual growth. 


Becoming attentive opens a spaciousness in us.




Staying in the NOW of noticing, observing, and watching keeps us present in the moment at hand. It’s not enough, though, to simply notice, observe, and watch. Yes, we behold what’s happening at the level of our soul, mind, body, or spirit. Then we add the rhythm of reflection to unfold what it all means and see how God is inviting us to step into transformation. 


Our birds offer insights daily, as does the word God offers me.  What’s been your experience with a word of the year? 


May you hear a word from God as His good gift to you. May it bring you to beholding with attentiveness, pondering with reflection, and discovering a path forward to more transformation in the year ahead. 

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