I look at the clock hanging on the wall in the physical therapy center and see that only 45 minutes have passed. I am torn. I have another 15 minutes of exercises to complete, but I am ready to stop. My body is shaky and sweaty, and honesty, I feel nauseous. However, I have another 15 minutes. Surely, I can complete 15 more minutes.
Little do I know, my physical therapist, Rebekah, is watching me from across the room. When she catches my eye, she asks how I am doing. I confess that I don’t feel great and think I might call it a day. She agrees that’s a good idea and praises my hard work over the past 45 minutes. Honestly, I don’t hear her over my internal voice saying, “Quitter.”
As I walk past her on my way out, I say, “Thanks for your kindness and understanding today,” to which she replies, “Why don’t you try to offer kindness to yourself once in a while?” Her response is spoken playfully, but it feels weighty, insightful, and disruptive.
Be kind to myself. Now that’s a radical idea.
At the dawn of 2019, I had the lofty goal of accomplishing “50 before 50.” My milestone birthday was only 12 months away, and a friend tackling her “40 before 40” with gusto had inspired me to go for it too. What new, adventurous, or brave tasks could I tackle? What dreams could I dust off the shelves? What choices could I make to finish my 40s with intention, energy, and excitement?
I set to work. I learned how to fold using the “KonMari” method and organized my teenage son’s sock and underwear drawer, which remains an impressive thing of beauty. I had four inches cut off my hair (yes, sometimes getting a haircut takes immense bravery). I joined a boxing gym with my husband. I compiled a selection of my essays and bound them into a book. I appeared on a friend’s podcast. I led a retreat for the women of my church. I was making progress with my goal of 50 before 50…until I was not.
Sometime during a surprisingly challenging year, my gusto gave out. And I found myself approaching the year’s end and my milestone birthday with a sense of failure and self-reproach. I didn’t move forward with a particular dream, eat healthy, or run the 5K. I had to walk away from ministry, cancel trips, and slow down. Heck, I even failed to write letters, cook meals, and organize our photos like I intended. I felt like I was entering the new decade not with a bang, but a whimper.
That’s when Rebekah’s words resurfaced: “Why don’t you offer kindness to yourself once in a while?”
Why don’t I? Why do I minimize my milestones, diminish my dreams, and scorn myself so easily?
Why am I so quick to utter a curse rather than offer a blessing?
I am sitting with these questions and paying attention to the responses that rise to the surface of my tender and tired heart. As I ponder Rebekah’s words, I realize that they offer the theme words for 2020 that I have been seeking and an invitation to put them into practice: Be Kind.
So, I begin by reflecting on the past decade, which aligned with my 40s. As I do, I practice extending kindness to myself. I honor all that the decade held: the courageous steps I took; the profound losses I grieved; the difficult choices I made; the hard work that I did; the milestones I reached; and the dreams that I chased.
I notice anything rising that feels like failure, regret, or a missed opportunity, and I take a deep breath. I can sense accusation and shame lurking just below the surface, ready to strike, so I invite Jesus into these vulnerable places. I don’t rush forward; instead, I linger here, continue to breathe, and remind myself, “Be kind.” Soon, I am able to return to reminiscing, and I find I am noticing times of grace, growth, and goodness in the midst of the decade’s difficulties. I pause to honor not only these moments, but also myself, with kindness.
This is only the beginning. I will continue to intentionally practice kindness throughout this new year, especially as my milestone birthday arrives. When I look into the mirror on that day, I will utter the astonishing sentence “I am 50” and bless the face that looks back at me. I will honor the milestone with joy and celebration, not with tears and regret. And I will remind myself to be kind in the days that follow until I no longer need the reminder, until kindness is deeply rooted in my heart and comes as naturally to me as my next breath.
Friend, may you learn to be kind to yourself in the new year too. You are loved…just the way that you are.
A lover of story, Susan Tucker has always been captivated by beautiful writing. She is drawn to themes of tension, joy/grief, hope/loss, freedom/shame, which she explores in her own writing. Susan spends her days teaching middle school English, mothering her two teenage sons, and loving her husband of 25 years. She cherishes her first cup of coffee each morning, moments of quiet and solitude, restorative yoga, worship music, and faithful friends.nbsp