Choosing a Word for the Year 2021

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

John 1:1

And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

John 1:14

God is Love.”

1 John 4:8

As I sit here at 5 am on the couch in my living room, with Christmas lights on, a beautiful nativity scene in front of me, and preparing to start writing about choosing a word for the year, these Scriptures come to mind. And to be completely open with you, it kind of blows me away as I ponder them in this context.

God Himself is a word-Love. Jesus is that word made flesh. He is Love. And what a powerful word He is.

There is so much power to be found in words.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

Psalm 119:105

I also realize that God has used it to transform my heart, sustain me amid struggle, and draw me closer into His heart.

Michelle Hillaert

A handful of years ago, I began to choose a word for each year. It started mostly through my participation in the world of personal development and empowerment, but over the years has become transformative and completely driven by prayer.

Every year, when I choose or receive my word for the year, I often find that it doesn’t mean exactly what I think it means. I also realize that God has used it to transform my heart, sustain me amid struggle, and draw me closer into His heart.

2016 – Fearless

The first time I chose a word for the year was for the year 2016. My word for the year was “Fearless.”

That year, I stepped way out of my comfort zone and participated in the Mrs. Virginia Pageant and published my first book.

It’s also the year that I had terrible postpartum anxiety, battled through mega voices of failure, and struggled just to make it through each day.

In my mind, when choosing the word “Fearless,” I thought it meant I was going to go out and do great things. And yes, I did do a few great things that year, but more so, in my struggle, every day was a battle to get past fear and keep moving forward amidst crushing postpartum anxiety and screaming voices of failure.

Repeating that word helped me continue to get back up, encouraged me not to quit, and gave me the strength to keep moving forward.

2017 – Rising Strong

For 2017, it wasn’t one word, but two words that were placed on my heart. After experiencing so much failure and struggle, I was ready to get back up and move forward. I was ready to Rise Strong.

In my mind, I’d be writing another book, rocking it in my business, and by the end of the year, I’d be hitting some goals.

Ahhhh…I think this is the first year that I realized that my thoughts on the words were not quite His thoughts on the words. 2017 was perhaps one of the most transformative years of my life.

I’m tearing up as I’m typing this on my phone, just filled with so much gratitude. 2017 was the year that God began to wreck my heart.

I’ll never forget the wake of my friend, father, and mentor, Fr. Mike, in Loretto, Pennsylvania. I was kneeling next to his body, filled with gratitude, as tears were free-flowing. I didn’t understand what he saw in me and why he loved me, but he did. And for every hard moment in my life, he was there.

I closed my eyes, and in my heart I saw him standing before the Father with multitudes of people behind him, the people who flowed from his resounding yes when he heard God ask him, “Michael, will you give me your life?”

And in that moment, I told my Father, my God, that that’s what I wanted. I wanted Him to use me however HE desired. My life was now His.

The next day, another priest prayed with me and over me. My heart ached as I asked him, “Father, who will I go to now when my life is falling apart? Fr. Mike was my person.” I’ll never forget his response. “Michelle, Jesus wants to be that person for you.”

Even though I know we’re supposed to have a relationship with Jesus, I didn’t know how that could really work. I mean, Jesus couldn’t talk back to me, couldn’t give me a hug or words of wisdom…right?

Not long after, I met with another mentor who prayed with me and told me that the words the Lord gave to her were “Be still.” and “Who am I?”

It’s crazy that you can get into your 40s and not really know WHO you are. Anytime someone would ask me that, I’d immediately turn to branding or what I did…not who I am.

I was broken, lost, out of control, hurting. But that year, the Lord showed me WHO I was. His words spoken into my heart that Fall still ring true: “My Michelle.”

I learned that I have sensory processing disorder. I researched and read and began to understand ways I had crossed boundaries, why so many friendships had struggled. I learned that being still meant that Michelle didn’t always have to make things happen. I learned what it meant to let go and let God.

Looking back, I know that my dear Fr. Mike’s last gift to me was a miracle worked in my heart that day at his wake. A miracle that took time, where God took a wrecking ball and broke through all the walls built up over the years.

“There’s no wall he won’t kick down, lie he won’t tear down coming after me.”

I thought “Rising Strong” meant success in the world’s eyes. But 2017 is the year I found myself. The year I finally began to LOVE myself. It’s the year that Jesus became my person and the year that God’s very own Michelle began to “rise strong.”

2018 – Shine

In 2018, I was still on quite a high from all of the lessons learned in 2017 and filled with desire to Shine Christ’s light. 

I’ll never forget how I received my word for that year. I was speaking on a live video, and in my heart, I just heard it and knew. SHINE!!!

So that year, the word Shine was like a theme song in my heart. I was getting up at 5 am every day to work out and pray. My relationship with God was getting stronger.

I began to surrender more and more. Trent, the kids, and I did the “33 Days to Morning Glory” consecration to our Lady, and we truly began to trust God.

That’s the year that we were scammed out of $60,000 when buying our home. The year that God made a way for us to move in any way. It was a year of much financial hardship. A year where I walked away from one business and started two others.

Throughout 2018, we received so many words from random people and places that God was going to bring restoration to our family…we couldn’t see it yet, and even though times were hard, we chose trust.

It’s beautiful how trust, surrender, and shine are all connected. The more we lean in to trust and surrender to the will of God, knowing that He’s got our back, the more we can let go of worry and simply allow Him to shine through.

So 2018 was another transformative year, a call to surrender and trust, and a deeper understanding of what it takes to truly shine.

2019 – Unleash

word for the year

I almost want to laugh at myself here, and yes, there’s a quirky smile on my face, because by this time, you’d think that I’d understand that the word I receive isn’t always what I think. I remember when I knew this would be my word for the year. I was excited because it meant that I was going to unleash everything that had been holding me back in my business. I was FINALLY going to be successful (insert belly laugh).

Ahhhh, Michelle…you really are too funny. 

2019 was perhaps one of the hardest years yet. I had begun to read St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue and was going through a reconversion and another wrecking of my heart. The more I read, the more I journaled and said to God, “Take my memory, understanding and will. Let only your will be done in and through me.”

I asked God to clean up the messes in my life, and He did just that.

One by one, I was unleashed from the businesses and plans that were meant to lead to my personal success.

In each unleashing, my heart ached, and I struggled with understanding why this was happening. But the profound peace that was like a song underneath all of the heartache told me that God was answering my prayer, “I’m your mess, you clean it up.”

Surrender. Trust. Unleashed. As hard as 2019 was, I am so grateful that my God loves me enough to swoop in when asked and clean up my messes. What an awesome God He is!!! Unleash me, Lord.

2020 – Present

When this word began to pop off the pages of people’s social media posts and comments, I was like, uh-uh…this is NOT my word.

If you can run from a word, I think I tried to. But I kept hearing the whisper in my heart…“Present.”

So my word for 2020 became “Present.”

This year has been something else, hasn’t it? In addition to the pandemic and an abrupt change to the school year with all kids suddenly being homeschooled, I went back to working full-time in the corporate world.

catholic family podcast

With so much change and uncertainty thanks to the pandemic, we truly have worked hard to just be present this past year. To not always focus on the future, but to take care of and live for what’s happening right now. To soak in the moments and be grateful for the gift that each day brings.

It’s kind of crazy because in this time of being present, I was invited to join the Little With Great Love team, and Trent and I finally started our podcast “Catholic Family Uncorked.” I’ve always loved writing and speaking, and without having to push for it and with just staying put, I’ve written more blog articles and put out more content than I have in years, just letting go and letting God take the lead. 

In this year of plenty, we’ve learned how to budget and balance a spreadsheet with our bank account, we saw our firstborn son graduate and go off to Franciscan University, paid off a lot of debt, and have begun to experience the restoration that was spoken over us in 2018.

2021 – Beautiful

I’ve been praying about my word for this next year. The word spoken over me by a friend, also spoken into my heart, is the word “Beautiful.”

For much of my life, even though I haven’t really felt beautiful, people have told me that I am beautiful. So even though I haven’t always felt it, over the years, my looks came to have a strong role in defining my worth.

While God has brought healing to much of my heart and has broken down wall after wall, this is one area of my life that still needs healing.

This past year has been hard health-wise. My legs have been covered with chronic hives, I’ve had thyroid and hormone issues, I haven’t felt very well, and I’m often tired. As I see myself aging as I get further into my 40s, with more wrinkles forming around my eyes and mouth, some days I really struggle to feel beautiful and confident.

I have moments where when I look in the mirror, I’m just sad.

I know looks don’t define us, and I certainly don’t look at other women who have wrinkles or scars or extra weight and think they’re ugly or unlovable.

I’m only this hard on myself. There’s been this 40+ year struggle with the desire to be beautiful–rooted in a longing to be accepted and loved. I’ve battled with (and overcome) an eating disorder, fought perfectionism and quite frankly, I’m just done and longing for complete healing and restoration in this area of my life.

Another layer healed.

So this year, my prayer is that God wrecks the part of my heart that allows itself to be defined by what’s outside. That in those moments where I happen to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I’ll stand in confidence and see Him shining through, opening my eyes to see the beauty and worth found in “His Michelle.” 

My friend, I’m going to challenge you here. As we prepare to enter into this new year, spend some quiet moments in prayer and ask God what he wants to do with your heart and life. Ask Him to place a word on your heart.

Maybe you’ll feel like you’ve received a word, and maybe you’ll just choose one, but I want to encourage you to write it in a journal. Make sure to share why you chose that particular word and what you think it will mean.

Then when this time of year comes around in 2021, when you’re getting ready to pray for your 2022 word, look back at your journal entry, reflect on your year, and see the work God has completed in you.

May our all-powerful God be with you, inspire you, and protect you. And may you experience a continued healing and conversion in your heart as we prepare to say goodbye to 2020 and step into this new year.

He’s got you, my friend. 


Jesus, I surrender myself to you. Take care of everything.

Jesu, ufam tobie. Jesus, I trust in you!

P.S. Has God worked through the words He has given you each year? I want to hear your story! Please share in the comments so we can celebrate God’s faithfulness and goodness together. ?

About Author

Michelle Hillaert brings more than 25 years of experience in roles relating to technology and communications to GIVEN. With an undergraduate degree in Communication Arts from Franciscan University of Steubenville, her portfolio includes emergency management, web, application and graphic design, marketing and social media management, podcasting, and online consulting. In her previous employment, Michelle played a major role in the development and improvement of internal systems as well as the development and expansion of the Quality Management System. She also managed processes and communication with stakeholders in major application builds of state-run programs. In addition to this work, Michelle has dedicated herself to helping women live their full potential as a doula, life and fitness coach, motivational speaker and author. Having four daughters, nine sisters, and having journeyed with many women over the years, Michelle has experienced first-hand how as women, we often hesitate to respond with our gifts because we don’t recognize that we are uniquely gifted and that the world – especially those we encounter on a daily basis – needs us to share these gifts. In light of this, she has a passion and proven capacity for flourishing young women in the Church through mentoring and leadership development. Michelle has found that transformation often happens in those quiet moments of prayer and reading the works of the saints, such as the “Dialogue” by St. Catherine of Siena and makes daily reading and continual growth an essential part of her day. Outside of work, Michelle has been married for over 23 years to her husband, Trent. They reside in Front Royal, Virginia and together have six children, 2 in college and four still at home, along with three dogs, a cat and 27 chickens. She is a soccer mom and singer who loves leading praise and worship. “It’s only when we truly know how unspeakably much we are loved by our Father and how He is constantly pursuing us – even in those moments when we’re running in the opposite direction – that we can come to understand that our identity lies in His love. With this knowledge, we are able to step out in confidence and as inspired by St. Pope John Paul II, live fearlessly.”

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