In these waning days of 2011 when our thoughts drift back and forth over what has passed and what is yet to come, be kind to yourself. If you are the sort of person that thrives on goal setting and mapping each step, then by all means, knock yourself out, but if you are the sort of person that meets with frustration and self-loathing when you fail to meet your own expectations, maybe it’s time for a new approach. I call it kindness. I proclaim 2012 the Year of Kindness.
It seems to me, that by following the larger path of kindness, most of the little things on our list of self-improvements will be addressed, but they will be addressed with health and balance. Often, we are our own enemies at times like this, when we are faced with proverbial fresh-starts, we pile on goal upon goal, expectation upon expectation, and we leave little room for error or adjustment. Let’s not do that to ourselves this time around. Let us instead practice the art of kindness above all else.
Be kind to your body. You say you’d like to lose weight, and exercise. Instead of charting out a wellness plan that includes regimented times of exercise and an unrealistic diet, think in terms of being kind to your heart by giving it opportunity to pump with strength while out on a hike with loved ones, and feeding it things that won’t make it work too hard when it is at rest. Be kind to the earth by choosing food that is locally grown and sustainable as often as you can, and be kind to animals by choosing alternative sources of protein. As you stand in the kitchen, or peruse the menu, keep it simple, don’t make yourself miserable by using words like “I can’t have” or “I really shouldn’t” think instead in terms of treating your body with kindness, at the end of the year, if the larger goal of kindness has won, so has your body.
Be kind to your intellect. Are you nourishing your mind with literature and programming of substance? Try replacing People with National Geographic, Stephanie Meyer with Jane Austen and The Kardashians with, well, anything really. Go ahead and keep your guilty pleasures, as long as they are not damaging to your spirit and sense of self-worth, but supplement them with greater works. As you demonstrate kindness to your mind, you will be rewarded exponentially by finding yourself a better conversationalist, able to speak intelligently on current events, express your thoughts clearly as you will be drawing from a deeper well, and, best of all, being alone with your thoughts may turn out to be a happy place.
Be kind to your soul. My personal faith tradition places high value on daily Bible reading. While I agree with this value, it can be a source of great frustration. A regimented reading plan can turn what would otherwise be an organic, natural, growing relationship with God into an item on a to do list. I have spent many a New Year crafting elaborate strategies for doing my spiritual “work” only to have the whole scheme fall flat one, two, and if it’s a year of particularly strong resolve, six weeks in to the new year, not one step closer to experiencing true spiritual growth. If you see yourself reflected in this scenario, it’s time to give kindness a try.
I love the imagery of the shepherding nature of God. What could demonstrate a more beautiful picture of kindness than that of a shepherd nurturing and guiding sheep? The prophet Isaiah, when speaking of the Christ says;
He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. Isaiah 40:11
Nourish us, carry us close, gently lead us. This speaks of a loving relationship, not a regimented spiritual growth plan. In kindness to your spirit, earnestly and honestly seek communion with God, and the desire to spend time in the holy scriptures will be a natural outcropping of this relationship. Bible reading without the divine intervention of the Holy Spirit, can often feel like eating chalk, so if you have a lingering taste of limestone, ask God to be revealed to you as you read, and keep asking until what you once experienced as calcite turns into the life-changing whisper of the Giver of Life.
And when the whisper comes, everything could change. In the ultimate act of kindness to yourself, listen to the prompting of God. We can set our goals, broad or narrow, big or small, but the greatest joy in life will be ours when we fiercely and passionately lean in close to hear the voice of our Shepherd.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27
We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps. Proverbs 16:9
Make kindness your singular goal in 2012 and make seeking God your greatest desire. As you are absorbed in God’s grace, you will find all you need to live abundantly.
Grace and peace to you this new year.