Turn the popular custom of choosing a word for the year into momentum toward holiness.
By Sheri Wohlfert
Seeing lessons and projects through the guidance of a word for the year provides a freshness to everything.
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path. Psalm 119:105
A few years ago I began to imitate the popular practice of prayerfully choosing a “word of the year.” This simple idea allowed the Holy Spirit to lead me to some beautiful and challenging words that gave a purpose and focus to my discipleship. As a teacher in a Catholic school, I am constantly looking for ways to help my students draw closer to Christ and grow in discipleship, so in our classroom, we modify the pick-a-word practice, and make it a word of the room instead of a personal word.
During our Eucharistic Adoration time each December, students begin looking for important words in Holy Scripture and prayers that touch their hearts. Each time they come across one of these words more than once, they write the word on an index card and put it in a special prayer basket. After Christmas break, the students and I take the basket to the chapel and read Psalm 119:97-112, asking for the Holy Spirit’s intercession as we select the word of the room for the new year. That word becomes a powerful tool and a guidepost for us as we grow in holiness. That word becomes an anchor for classroom behavior and attitude. That word becomes a key component in our prayer and scripture study. Our word of the room connects to our art projects, our service projects, and our school prayer services and liturgy planning. We use that word as a lens to see the lives of the saints and the work of each other. The word becomes much more than a word; it becomes an action.
The word compassion led students to adopt a group of special needs students and help prepare them for participation in Special Olympics events. It also led to a prayer team that prayed a weekly rosary for people and families who are suffering. They even created a prayer-request email network to collect names of those who needed prayer outside our school. Students performed a skit at a school prayer gathering about showing empathy and compassion to others in the school and in the world. This simple word led to a project that reached far beyond our school when they collected funds to send with a former student who was going on a college mission trip to work in an orphanage in Romania. A year later, students in our school are still praying for those orphans.
I am continually amazed at the power of a simple word and the momentum toward holiness it can create. Allowing the students to prayerfully ponder possible words and then giving the power to select that word to the Holy Spirit in prayer sets active discipleship in motion. When nearly 100 students call on the intercession of the Holy Spirit they expect the perfect word. The greatest part is watching them embrace that word, live that word, and share that word with the whole school and parish community.
From the teacher perspective, it’s one of my favorite Holy Spirit-inspired classroom practices. Seeing lessons and projects through the guidance of a new word provides a freshness to everything. When it’s “their” word, the students take ownership and they use it as an anchor to everything we do. They literally take that word and run with it. I can use it in conversations about classroom behavior and peer interactions. I use it on academic rubrics and connect it to Gospel teaching, our Christian walk, Catholic Social Teaching, and nearly every corner of our day. The word of the room truly does become a lamp unto our feet!
Sheri Wohlfert is a Catholic wife, mom, speaker, and teacher who writes from Michigan. She uses her sense of humor and her deep faith to help others discover the joy of being a child of God. Sheri also writes at JoyfulWords.org.