It was New Years Day and my husband arranged for me to spend a night alone in a hotel room. There was no agenda, aside from a massage scheduled the next afternoon. His gesture and my one-and-only new year’s resolution paired like sharp cheddar cheese and a fine bottle of cabernet.
After years of failed attempts at lasting weight loss, better organization and more fruitful time management, I had enough of grasping for personal growth. Life had knocked me on my ass over and over again. If change was going to stick through the ups and downs of a tumultuous life, it needed to be rooted in something deeper. This night alone afforded me time to decompress and funnel my thoughts into a new strategy for the coming year. No more categorical attempts at change, spearheaded by superficial self-discipline. This year is going to be about inner healing and trusting that any desired changes would organically result from putting first things first.
Somewhere in between scarfing down my favorite sushi roll in silence and spending an obscene amount of time in the tub with a face mask and a glass of wine, I boiled down my new resolution to this: I’m going to take exceptionally good care of myself this year.
In the last two years, I’ve learned so much about emotional wholeness and my own personal brokenness. I’ve buried deep wounds in attempt to “forget about it and move on,” not realizing that the very pain I buried would drive me into self-sabotaging behaviors like overeating, physical and emotional burnout and anger outbursts. True healing demands pain be acknowledged so it can be let go of. Our pastor says “buried emotions never die.” The same holds true for pain. When we bury pain rather than process it, it doesn’t go away. It’s sharpness morphs into a dull ache that casts a shadow on every part of our life. Maybe I don’t need another run at cleaning up my diet and sticking to an exercise regimen in order to shed unwanted weight. Maybe instead of more self-discipline, I need a level of self-compassion that invites healing into the places of pain I tend to numb with crappy food choices and overindulgence.
In addition to acknowledging unresolved pain as the root of some of my self-sabotaging behavior, I’ve also come to realize the role of self-acceptance in living a life of wholeness. The desire for change shouldn’t come from the lie that the change we seek will somehow make us more worthy or lovable. Our society’s system is built on convincing us that we need to do more, try harder and be better. The shame this creates drives a wedge between us and the Love we were created for. Brene Brown did a study on people who were “wholehearted” versus those who were not and found that the fundamental difference between the two groups was worthiness. Those who believe they are worthy led a wholehearted life. Those who did not believe they were worthy led a life of sorrow. We were each created to be a son or daughter of a deeply loving Father. When we believe in His plan for redemption through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are restored to our identities as His. Created in His image and redeemed by Christ’s blood, we have an inherent value beyond the reach of this world. Losing thirty pounds won’t make us any more or less worthy. Getting our shit together at home and having perpetually spotless floors won’t make us more lovable. These are minor details in the grand scheme of life. When we focus our energy on these categorical attempts to change, will we have anything left for true, meaningful connection? Afterall, that’s what life is really about. We aren’t in some rat race to see who can “do it better” and look the best in the process. In many ways, micromanaging our bodies and manhandling our schedules into perfection are attempts at control. This strong desire for control on the outside comes from the “out of control” feelings we bury on the inside. We refuse to connect with and process through those hard feelings, so we control our outer world instead. It makes us feel better. It slaps a band aid on a flesh wound. The problem is, we aren’t created to be control freaks. We are here to cultivate connection. With God, ourselves and others. Self-acceptance is a key factor in forging those connections and self-acceptance is a fundamental piece of taking good care of ourselves.
Some people water down self-care, making it about the massages and the face masks, the girls’ nights and the pedicures. Others swing the pendulum the other direction, making self-care about following a meticulous diet or a strict budget or a killer exercise regimen.
I’m here to say its both none of and all of those things. At it’s foundation is self-acceptance and re-humanization.
At seven years old, I had faith that could move mountains. I “got saved” (as if it’s a one-time event) and called my three closest friends and made them say the Sinner’s Prayer over my parent’s corded phone. I wasn’t about to go to Heaven alone. I baptized my best friend in my Grandma’s swimming pool in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit the way Jesus told us to in Matthew. This was the same pool where I embarked on my many serious attempts to walk on water. My faith, although sometimes misguided, has always been strong. This is mostly a really great thing.
As I continue to grow, though, I realize my strong level of faith has a weak point. I have little to no tolerance for my own humanity. I face hardship with an “I got this” attitude, never acknowledging the cost to my human soul. At it’s center, I believe my faith and trust is in God. However, I rarely acknowledge my neediness for a savior in the moment, skirting past my utter dependence on Him. It was as if I load up my knapsack with enough “faith” for the journey and hit the road. Truth be told, my strong faith covered for the fact I despised my neediness, rarely allowing myself to be vulnerable enough for God to affect my heart. Does that seem twisted? I’m still working it out. As I do, two scriptures come to mind: “His strength is made perfect in our weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9) and “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). I’m still very much in process with this but I know it’s requiring me to re-humanize myself, allowing my strong exterior to soften enough to really let the Lord in. Truth is, I don’t “got this” because “getting this” means going about life independently rather than hand-in-hand with our ever-present, unconditionally loving Father. Taking exceptionally good care of myself will require me to be gentle and embrace my own humanity. This is hard for me. Foreign, even. But what’s harder is going through life with the weight of the world on my shoulders, as if it all begins and ends with me. We aren’t meant to carry that load. It’s that very load that buries me, isolates me and keeps me trapped in pain.
This year is about cutting through all of that. It’s about dragging those festering wounds out into the light for proper healing. It’s about getting help—clinical, therapeutic help—processing through trauma and pain so it loses it’s grip on my life choices. It’s about embracing the hard and humiliating work of inner healing rather than embarking on another vain attempt at “personal growth” in it’s many superficial forms. It’s about inviting true sanctification, not behavior modification.
This year is about taking exceptionally good care of myself. And I have a hunch it might just require a few more hotel stays alone.