One Little Word: 2021

Like father, like son – my grandson eating spaghetti.

Most mothers I know have stories to tell about their youngest child. Oh, those youngest children… (shaking my head.) They are a different breed, always seeking to emulate their older siblings, always striving to keep up. (Full disclosure: I am a youngest child.)

From a very early age, my youngest son was determined to match his older brothers.

His first word was “self“, as in “I can do it by myself.

When I tried to help him put his coat on, his frustrated response as he swatted me away was, “Self, self, self.” I got the same rejoinder for my attempts to assist him in teeth brushing, face washing, and eating spaghetti.

Of course, he did learn to do everything by himself. He was and is self-reliant.

It would have been so much easier, faster, and neater if he would have allowed me to help him. Parenting is a delicate balancing act.

Last month I wrote about my word of the year for 2021: “Empty“.

Some may see a negative connotation associated with this word, but my intent is precisely the opposite.

I see “empty” as the equivalent of being full of possibilities. I see emptiness as the diminishment of self,  to give more room for God’s light to shine. I see emptiness as eliminating the selfish, the egotistical, the self-absorbed, the heedless parts.

It is a daunting task, but, as one reader reminded me, not one I must undertake without support.

The Christian concept of emptiness goes back at least to The Christian Desert Fathers of the fourth century. These monks taught disciples to empty the mind using a form of meditation. Through this practice, they removed mental distractions in preparation for prayer.

The medieval friar Meister Eckhart taught that emptying ourselves of self-centeredness rooted in fear is a crucial spiritual practice. He advocated cultivating “inner solitude“.

Saint Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians that Jesus “emptied himself” in the following passage: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

In his emptiness, God’s love could shine through the human form of Jesus.

Saint Paul also wrote, “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me”,  in Galatians 2:20. I believe his intent here is to encourage us to relinquish our personal concepts of reality and emulate Christ. To see all joys and sorrows without judgment, knowing they all come from God.

Not easy to do.

My first instinct is usually that I know the best way. My version of reality is the correct one.

As it turns out, by demanding “Self, self, self,” as my son did as a toddler, I am actually working against my own growth.

Learning to accept help when we need it makes our spiritual unfolding easier, faster, and neater. It prevents us from getting spaghetti all over ourselves and the kitchen, spiritually speaking.

It is a delicate balancing act.

You can find the places I link up here.



  1. Emptying ourselves of our self is humbling and hard. But your concept is so true. We must empty ourselves, shed our pride of accomplishment and other baggage, to make room to be filled with something better. Hard to swallow but good for us!

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    • You are so right, Denny – it is humbling and hard. I thought “empty” tied in well with my word for 2020 – humility. Most of the things we do that are worthwhile are not easy! Love your thoughts on the word.


  2. This: “see all joys and sorrows without judgment” — this is the tenent of Buddhism that resonates with me most. It’s interesting to see the amount of overlap in the new testament and eastern religions. Have you ever read “Lamb” by Christopher Moore? It’s an irreverent look at Christ’s formative years and how he befriends the Magi from the birth story. Lots of semi-offensive stuff in that book, but also lots of teaching. One of my faves.

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  3. I love that word for 2021. I haven’t decided yet, and I ended up not doing one for 2020. As your post says, so many ways for this word to unfold in the year. I can see God showing one so many things once we empty ourselves.

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    • “Empty” chose me months ago. I didn’t need to search for a word. I knew this was the one I wanted to think about this year. Maybe God is leading you in a different direction.


  4. I hate to ask for help. Like your son, I want to do it myself. But on the precipice of a very sad divorce, I realized I had been unsuccessful doing it myself. That I needed help. Not human help but spiritual help. And I finally let God in.

    When you first mentioned empty as your WOTY, I did think of it in a negative connotation. But then I realized I had to empty my life of the constant desire to do everything myself in order to gain the strength to do everything with God at my side. Had not thought of meditation as a form of emptying or being empty but it is at its very core.

    Thank you for writing posts that make me think.

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    • I tend to want to do things my own way, in my own time too. Good for you for recognizing the fact that God was with you and wanted to be let into your life! I like your thoughts about empty and emptiness.


  5. “Empty” is a worthy, perfect, and daring touchstone for the coming year. Maybe more than any other time in our living memory, we will have to learn how to be hopeful without being attached to our expectations — if 2020 was designed to teach us anything, that may have been it. Best wishes to you, truly.

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    • Exactly, Jan. That is what I imagined when I chose the word empty to focus on this year – a release from attachments. I need it after 2020. Happy New Year!


  6. Being empty leaves room for God & all the great things He has in store for us. Its like when we are beyond it with something & you cant keep going & in exasperation you give it to God “you do it, I’m too tired to keep going”, (your empty) your essentially asking for help. God is like “about time really been here for a while now” Sometimes, more often than not, it ends up in no way like you thought it would & all for the better. My daughter fell asleep in her spaghetti when she was little, my analogy being able to be peaceful in the middle of the mess. lol. I love spaghetti.

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  7. I always think “the glass is half empty” as a positive.

    Lots of room to grow. Lots of room to try new things.

    Hope 2021 is a year full of positive things for yo and your family.

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  8. Oh, empty. How interesting. I can totally see how that would work for you. I chose Flow. I want changes but not abrupt or extreme. I want the calm but steady movement, although I realize that at times the flow could be rapid. Happy New Year to you!

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  9. It absolutely is a delicate balancing act & one (from an eldest child that is always wanting to take responsibility) I’d love to know the secret – when you do find the secret. I think I mentioned it in my reply to your original post, I find the word “empty” full of hope and promise. An empty glass, after all, can always be filled…

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  10. It certainly is a delicate balancing act, accepting help can be so difficult at times. My youngest is quite the opposite though, he’s a needy child. I’m not sure if that is because he has only ever known me as disabled whereas my other children remember me able bodied. My son was 5 when I got sick and he’s now 10. I hope 2021 is peaceful for you x

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  11. Laurie, hi! Yes, empty allows you to be expectant of what God will do, all kinds of out-of-the-box miracles and hopes all of His doing.

    A fascinating word … looking forward to seeing how this unfolds for you in the months ahead. I THINK I might finally have a Word but I’m still not sure. I’ve gone through about 6 already but one seems to be sticking with me more than others.

    We’ll see!

    Meanwhile, Happy New Year to you and yours. And here’s to a great big bowl of pasta!


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  12. My favorite quote from my youngest child, when she was about 7 and I tried to get her to hold my hand crossing the street. her response? “No, Nicky hold Nicky’s hand!” She is still that stubborn and independent and the amazing mother of three active children under the age of 8! Wonderful post and I appreciate it as I contemplate my first real WOTY and posting about it. Merry Third Day of Christmas!

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  13. Laurie, I do not believe your 2021 word empty is negative at all. I love how emptiness can fill us up with growth, wonderfully said. Thank you for teaching me something new about the Christian concept of emptiness and it’s beginnings. Blessings.
    Your neighbor at Inspire me Monday.

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  14. I never had siblings, so I can’t relate there Laurie, but “self, self, self” is good and I think from your posts that you have raised all self-sufficient, talented young men. Their influence has taught them to become everything one could dream of in a partner. (Especially true since you told me once all their significant others don’t like to cook and leave it up to their hubbies to do those honors.)

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  15. Laurie, thank you for this post! Such a great lesson in “self, self”, self”. I LOVE your word for 2021, I thoroughly enjoyed your post on why you chose that word previously. I agree with you, so many possibilities in “empty”, just like the year before us, fresh, untouched, waiting for us. I especially appreciated your connection with the “self” illustration because I feel emptying myself of myself, is the first step to the ever elusive trait of “humility”.

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    • Yes, that’s how I feel about 2021, Donna – so many possibilities. Humility was my word for 2020. I may have gotten those 2 words backward. Maybe I should have chosen empty before humility! 🙂


  16. It will be interesting to see how “empty” touches your life in the coming year, Laurie. If your experience is anything like me with my words, it will be in ways you might not even be able to imagine right now. God knows what we need, though, so here we go! 🙂

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  17. Laurie, love this fresh insight on empty. And when we empty oursevles of self as Jesus did, it opens up possibilities from the God of the impossible. It allows Him room to work in us. To fill us up with Him.

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  18. I love seeing all the different words people have been led to. Empty sounds like a challenge, but it’s so true that when we empty ourselves there is more room for God to work. I look forward to reading more about how this word plays out for you, Blessings for 2021!

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  19. This is such a marvelous word, Laurie! Empty opens up so many possibilities (ironically?). “Learning to accept help when we need it makes our spiritual unfolding easier, faster, and neater.” This is a lesson I continue to learn myself.

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  20. Your breadth of knowledge is really amazing, Laurie! I will admit empty doesn’t resonate with me, but it does make more sense after this post (I’ll read your coffee post at some point tomorrow).

    I do definitely love the analogies between emptying your mind to go within, for obvious reasons (that I’m a big fan of meditation)..

    My word has been very elusive this year, and I picked such an appropriate one for 2020, but I’m pretty sure it finally popped into my head this morning. I, too, am the youngest. Atlhough I was a pretty easy child, which my mom REALLY needed after my brother!

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  21. The example of Jesus says it all, when it says “he emptied himself.” A life long journey, to lose ourself in Him. Wishing you a blessed and life giving 2021!

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  22. Very interesting and challenging word! I’ve definitely gotten better at pausing before responding instead of reacting with my first, usually self-centered, response. It’s a tough discipline!

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  23. Hi Laurie – I love how you’ve defined “Empty” and the positive spin you’ve put on it. I think Midlife has taught me that “it’s not all about me” but also its given me permission to make it about me when I need to. You’re right about it being a balancing act – investing in others but also giving yourself room to grow and thrive (which kind of ties in with my WOTY for 2021).

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  24. This reminds me of what John the Baptist said–He must increase, I must decrease. It just hit me that that’s the only way He can increase in our lives–if we decrease. There was a song some new folks to our youth group taught us years ago that had a line that God couldn’t pour His riches into hands already full.

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