It’s hard to resist the temptation to make resolutions. It’s a brand-new year; why not a brand new me? I should eat better, exercise more and spend less. Maybe 2023 could be the year I finally shrink my waist and grow my bank account. As a Christian pastor, I embrace the idea put forth in Revelation 21:5 that the Lord is “making all things new.” The problem is that, for us finite beings, change is hard. Every January, we resolve to make drastic improvements in our lives only to lose heart and give up before Valentine’s Day.
The Reverend’s Solution to New Year’s Resolutions
Reflections of a Lutheran pastor in Dunn County, Wisconsin
Many of our resolutions involve spending a hefty portion of our hard-earned income. Therapeutic forms of “self-care” have become big business as Americans seek an answer to their underlying psychological/spiritual anxiety in the market place. In 2021 U.S. fitness industry revenue was $33.25 billion and 39 percent of Americans hold gym memberships (20 percent of that group actually go to the gym).
The U.S. self-improvement market was worth about $10 billion in 2016 and it has not stopped growing. Every year, Americans spend more on self-improvement books, mindfulness apps, personal coaching, motivational speakers, and weight loss programs. At this point, Americans should be the happiest, healthiest people on the planet. Sadly, we are not. In Forbes Magazine’s ranking of the 20 happiest countries in the world, the highest the United States has ever ranked is number 16. While all that money on gym memberships, diet apps, fitness equipment and self-help books might be working for a few of us, overall, we don’t seem to be getting our money’s worth.
A series of studies by the Centers for Disease Control found that 97 percent of Americans are failing to meet ideal “healthy lifestyle” criteria. Only 2.7 percent of the people they studied met all four criteria necessary to be considered living a healthy lifestyle. Those included: not smoking, eating a diet that aligns with nutritional guidelines, exercising at least 150 minutes a week, and keeping a BMI below 20 percent for men and 30 percent for women.
For most of us, resolving to make drastic changes and spending money on services, books and memberships leads to disappointment and giving up. We end up worse off than we started—with less money, less confidence in ourselves and sometimes, bigger waistlines. I propose we try something different this year. Let’s not make any resolutions. Or perhaps a radically different type of resolution. I propose we resolve to love ourselves exactly as we are.
Let’s try loving ourselves the way God loves us. Jesus said, “Five sparrows are sold for just two pennies. Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” God knows every hair on your head, every wrinkle, every dark thought, and every extra pound. God is aware of all your mistakes and bad habits and yet loves you completely. Both the Old and New Testaments remind us that we are made in God’s image. We are God’s handiwork. How bad could we be? Isn’t it okay to love ourselves? This could be the year that we stop beating ourselves up. This could be the year that we echo the words of the psalmist and say, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
In 1st John we read, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” Children grow, learn and improve when they are guided gently and treated with love and respect. As God’s precious children, we are worthy of that kind of care. It is no wonder we give up sometimes. We make very high demands of ourselves in the form of New Year’s resolutions and then berate ourselves when we can’t live up to our own expectations. We would not treat our children or our friends like this. It is time to stop doing it to ourselves.
The biblical imperative to “love your neighbor as yourself,” assumes that you, do indeed, love yourself. You are not to put your needs above others, but you are just as deserving of love and attention as anyone else in your life.
When my three children were small, I was busy with the usual working mom tasks—my professional duties, the household chores, and my children’s school and afterschool activities. No matter how crazy things got, I did my best to feed them healthy meals at home and pack good lunches for them. I remember choosing a main dish that each one would enjoy and packing their favorite fruits and vegetables. I would add a small treat and imagine their smiles as they opened their lunch boxes. After I carefully packed their lunches, I would hurry off and grab some unhealthy fast food or a snack from the gas station as I rushed off to work. I am resolving this year, to try and love myself the way I love my kids. (The way God loves me.) If you don’t have children think of how you would treat someone you care deeply for, like a best friend, sibling, or spouse. Now care for yourself like that.
Let’s resolve not to resolve. It’s okay that we may never be able to live up to the vision that we have for ourselves or the standards that society sets for us. All of our resolutions are finite and temporary. Perfection is God’s realm, not ours. Knowing that the Holy Spirit is at work in our world and in us, frees us to not seek superficial means of salvation but to be guided by what is true and good.
If we decide to love ourselves as God loves us, we will notice the ways we are not caring for ourselves. It is okay to claim time for yourself to take that walk in the park. It is fine to love yourself enough to let the chores go so that you have time to worship, pray, meditate, or read. Turn down working overtime in favor of going for a swim. Loving ourselves means encouraging ourselves and celebrating small accomplishments, like cooking a healthy meal or choosing the sparkling water over the second glass of wine. Those small accomplishments will grow as we learn to love ourselves. Small accomplishments can snowball into bigger changes. A year from now, we may find that resolving to treat ourselves with care and respect has made us a little healthier and a lot happier.
Rev. Dr. Judy Kincaid serves as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. A featured preacher on the website, “A Sermon for Every Sunday,” Judy received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Temple University and her Master of Divinity degree from Luther Seminary. She earned her doctorate in Biblical Preaching in 2016. She lives in a church parsonage with her college professor husband, two beautiful daughters, two dogs, three cats, two little birds, a turtle and a snake.