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I met my word of the year with an immediate “no thank you” again this year. Again, it’s stretching me in ways I don’t want to be stretched and often don’t think I’m made to. I knew this word would be a year defining one, and it hasn’t proven me wrong.

There are a million reasons I did not want to take this word on this year, but the main reason is it represents the opposite of what I thought this year would be about for me. I was expecting explosive growth. I was hoping for a husband, a home, a big group of friends I could share my hospitality skills with, and more money to spend on what lights me up inside. In short, I wanted MORE. This word felt like God saying “no” to giving me the things I feel I’m lacking. I kicked against the prick, but all that did was drive it in deeper. I was stuck with it. My word of the year would be “STEWARD” whether I wanted it or not.

But a curious thing has been happening. Attempting to steward what I’ve already been given is not only making room for the things I hoped to have this year, it’s given me opportunities to actively acquire those things. For the most part, I’m discovering things I used to know and building on this knowledge to create a life that isn’t the disappointing one I was expecting.

One of the things I want to be a better steward of this year is my relationships. I hated this aspect of it because the last thing I wanted to do was settle here. I wanted to move to a bigger city with more eligible men and people my age I could befriend, a place with jobs I might be more interested in. I wanted new opportunities. Settling here felt like accepting a life of singlehood amongst people who could be my parents or grandparents and others my age who are all already married with children who didn’t have time to spare for me. But God surprised me.

My foray into online dating might be a failure thus far, but I’ve managed to cultivate some awesome relationships offline. I’ve made and deepened friendships with people I have things in common with across age groups and marital statuses. I have friends with whom I can dissect The Masked Singer, attend a ladies day or gospel meeting, grab lunch after service, or attend a regular game night. By attempting to be a better friend, relative or member of my local congregation, I’ve gained new friends.

One offshoot of this is relearning to navigate friendships with men. I used to have many male friends, but as I grew older, the number decreased to zero. This was mostly due to the distinctions and rules of engagement dictated by an interest in finding and marrying “the one.” Where I once prided myself on seeing the value of men as people and not looking on every man as a potential spouse, I began to place men in categories based on their eligibility and my interest in pursuing a romantic relationship with them. Although I’d heard and even believed friendship could lead to love, I excluded any men I was interested in dating from the group of men I could be friends with. Years of painful bouts with unrequited love taught me I couldn’t be just friends with a guy I liked. I equated friendships with men with accepting we’d never get together, and as a result, many amazing men never got the chance to be my friend, and many other amazing men who might have been interested in me romantically were left to die in the friend zone.

I didn’t know how to be a good friend to the male friends I had after that. I was so concerned with not giving them the wrong impression, I couldn’t relax or be myself around them. I was afraid if I joked with them they would think I was flirting, or if I slapped their shoulder when I laughed they would take it as some girlish way of expressing interest in a romantic relationship. In short, I didn’t know how to navigate male/female relationships.

But I’m slowly learning to navigate them again. I’m learning how to joke with my brothers in Christ or discuss common interests or share a meal without second guessing my every word or action. I’m learning  friendships can and do grow and change, and accepting a friendship can become something more (spoiler alert: in case you were wondering, this is not a rom-com or romance novel scenario where a friendship has turned into a romance, and none of my friendships are showing signs of doing so at the time of this writing).

It hasn’t been easy to steward these relationships well. There have been awkward moments and missteps. I’ve overthought things and caught myself reading into things. But I’m learning to laugh off the awkwardness. I’m learning not to assume everyone who does a certain thing is doing it for the same reasons I would or is trying to communicate the same things. I’m constantly reminded how asking leads to clarity and assumption leads to confusion and misunderstanding.

Relationships are only one pillar of my life I’m seeking to steward well this year. I can’t wait to share more with you on how God is growing my stewardship of other areas of my life.

How have you been tending to your relationships in 2019? Is there anything you realize you need to do differently in your relationships? Let me know in the comments.