Every time a new year rolls around, I set goals and resolutions for self-improvement. I contemplate, How can I be healthier, exercise more, eat less, spend more time in the Word, etc.? Unfortunately, I usually only make it about one week into the new year with many of my commitments. But according to a 1989 study done by John C. Norcross of the University of Scranton, so do about 77 percent of you! Apparently, I'm not alone.
As of late I have been asking myself the following question: Why do I really spend all the effort, focus and energy on self-improvement each year when I know I will ultimately fail? And these two: Is my good intent simply to be a better person, a better woman? In essence, am I simply working toward a new and improved version of me?
I'm not saying there is anything wrong with setting personal goals, but the more I've thought about it, the more I've begun to ponder Jesus' reference to the Greatest Commandment in Mark 12:28-31: "And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, 'Which commandment is the most important of all?' Jesus answered, 'The most important is, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." The second is this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." There is no other commandment greater than these.' "
Within those verses I read two instructions: first to love God and second to love others. Because there is no directive in this message for us to love ourselves, it’s seems implied that we are going to do that. So my next thought was, If it's so easy to love ourselves, then why, year after year, do I fail in the pursuit of good self-care?
The radio interview
I recently did a radio interview about marriage, and the commentator made a statement that stuck with me. She challenged her listeners with this: "What if this year — 2016 — you give your spouse a new marriage?" The question hit me in such a profound way.
Then I realized that each year I make commitments (resolutions) that focus on me as an individual. I make resolutions for self-improvement. So I asked myself, What if I did these things to be so personally cared for that I could give to others in a new and improved way? This new perspective would allow me to better live out the Greatest Commandment through loving God and loving others … as I love myself. Instead of being a new and improved Erin Smalley, I could simply be the version of Erin Smalley that is so loved and cared for that I couldn't help but be a better wife and mother. Maybe I, too, could give my spouse the gift of a new marriage.
Once again I will set personal goals at the start of the new year. However, this time I have a different end in mind. I still want to lose weight, spend additional time with God and exercise more, but this year my goal in self-care will be to love God and love others more effectively. And maybe this will help me to keep going longer than a week!
The Greatest Commandment
Jesus explains in the Greatest Commandment that we are called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. I believe this is the perfect way to practice self-care.
There are four main categories that make up who we are as individuals: emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical. When we are well cared for in each area, we can better love God and love our closest neighbor — our spouse. So this year, think about your personal resolutions in light of the ways that self-care can be applied to each of these four categories:
Emotional (Heart): Become aware of your feelings; express your feelings by putting a name to them.
Spiritual (Soul): Spend regular time in the Word; participate in Bible study with others; pray throughout the day.
Intellectual (Mind): Read new information and research; take a class on something of interest; challenge yourself to expand current ideas; engage in stimulating conversation with others.
Physical (Strength): Exercise regularly; make healthy food choices; stay well rested; balance work and relaxation.
This year, wives, let's be so well cared for that we can give to our husbands and our children from a place of abundance instead of a place of emptiness. Imagine what a healthy, well cared for wife could do for her marriage! You really could give your husband a new marriage in the new year.
Erin Smalley is a co-author of The Wholehearted Wife and serves in the Marriage and Family Formation department at Focus on the Family.