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So here we are, 60 days into the New Year, and I’ve already broken my New Year’s resolution.

I can’t pinpoint the exact day it happened. It wasn’t as if I resolved to give up junk food, and then tore through a bag of Doritos while binge-watching Jane the Virgin one particular evening. 

As well, I can’t fault the resolution itself. Inspired as it was by Scripture, it had to be a solid resolution, right?

Love your neighbor as yourself.

In early January I made physical and mental lists of the names of people to love; people to whom I thought I needed to show more kindness and attention. My husband, my parents in Connecticut, my brother and sister-in-law in California, the pregnant woman next door, the friend whose fiftieth birthday party I missed...the list went on. And on.

The list was lengthy, and somehow, right after making it, I forgot about nearly everyone on it as I plowed through the first two months of 2020 trying to meet all my deadlines at work along with daily duties as my kids’ personal chef, chauffeur and laundress.

While I was disappointed in myself for neglecting my list, it was also clear that my expectations were a little high. Why in the world did I expect I could pour myself into so many others simultaneously while barely keeping my own life together?

Hoping to find an answer to this question in the Walking with Purpose Bible study, Keeping In Balance, I re-visited the page on the topic of Balancing Expectations titled, “My Expectations of Myself.” [1] On this page author Lisa Brenninkmeyer directs us to write down the expectations we have of ourselves; then circle the ones that matter to God. And that’s when I had an “aha” moment—there was not a lot that needed circling on my list.

Truth be told, I wanted to squeeze quality time with dozens of people into my schedule so that I could stop feeling guilty and start feeling like I accomplished things. And I don’t think that feeling victorious after checking names off a list mattered much to God.

The dinner in Manhattan that I’d been trying so hard to set up with that friend whose birthday I missed wasn’t for her. It was for me, so I could stop feeling bad about missing her birthday.

I had missed the mark, but last Saturday, I was given a second chance at the Sisters of Life Feminine Genius Brunch in Pearl River, New York. If you know me as the picky, junk food-binging, vegetarian that I am, you won’t be surprised to hear that I didn’t partake of the brunch. But I did drink lots of coffee, and I made new friends among the ladies seated at my table. And we all got to hear Sister Virginia Joy deliver an inspiring talk on The Beauty of the Feminine Heart. 

Sister said something that has stayed with me—spoken with more eloquence than how I’m about to retell it here, but it was something like this:

Let God’s grace touch others through you.

Sister Virginia Joy gave examples of women who did this, and those women weren’t moving mountains or launching nonprofits or feeding armies. One woman simply reached out on a crowded train and helped a stranger with her crying baby. 

That, my friends, is what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.

I think I’ve got it figured out now. I think the kind of love we’re talking about doesn’t live on a to-do list. It is spontaneous, joyful and unselfish. It is simply letting God’s grace flow through us to others.

Peace,

Jen Gilbart

[1] Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 46. 

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Last month I managed to do something right. On most days in December, I was able to balance the business of Christmas shopping, decorating, cooking and celebrating with a peaceful mindset focused on His coming. I’ll admit I sometimes didn’t balance the two evenly, and there were days when party prep and presents kept my eyes off the real prize. But I did give more of my attention to Him than I had during past Christmas seasons. I am a work in progress!

So here we are at the start of a new year, and once again I feel compelled to make a New Year’s resolution. Doing so might be a waste of time since I’ve never stuck to any resolutions I’ve made in the past, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

Putting God first every day of the year (not just during Advent-Christmas) would make for a great resolution, right? But, I am a full-time employee of Walking with Purpose, and the act of working for a ministry of Jesus Christ keeps Him front-and-center daily. More than that, He and I are in cahoots here in my home office. I pray each day for the Holy Spirit to guide me in my work, and He certainly responds. 

I already know He’s Priority Number One.

Which brings me to Priority Number Two, and my resolution for 2020. I got the idea from Matthew 22:37-40:

[Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Christ says the second most important thing is to put others next, in the #2 spot to God. Not ourselves. Thinking about this, I realize that there are people in my life who really should be elevated to that #2 spot. People who, sadly, I sometimes ignore. My aging parents and my husband come to mind. 

But then, the self-centered part of me that worries about my sanity takes over my thought process. Really? It says. You’re going to give more of yourself to your parents, even though it is always you who visits them and not the other way around? They are the retired ones, after all. How in the world are you going to fit more two-hour-long road trips into your packed schedule?

That selfish voice also has a problem giving my husband second-to-God status. You both work full-time yet it is always you doing the laundry and cooking meals. When’s the last time he made you dinner? Why do you eat Doritos while he and the kids enjoy the steak dinner you prepared for them?

(Side note: I’m a vegetarian, and the rest of the household are big-time carnivores. However, the time it takes to make two dinners each day is time I just don’t have.)

The WWP Bible study Keeping in Balance has a lesson all about putting people “next.” In it, author Lisa Brenninkmeyer reveals the key to actually making it happen. She writes:

“The principle of ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ works only if you treat yourself well. Do you habitually neglect yourself, forsaking prayer, rest, good nutrition, exercise, and healthy emotional boundaries?...Do you agree that this is a necessary first step in order to love others well?” [1]

You can’t effectively love others if you don’t love and care for yourself first. Which I think means I need to stop eating Doritos for dinner.

It looks like I might have two resolutions for the new year: Providing more TLC to my “neighbors,” and to myself. I’m going to try like heck to stick to this because of something else Lisa writes in Keeping in Balance:

“At the end of our lives, God isn’t going to ask about all that we have accomplished. He will look at how we’ve loved. This is the true measure of significance.” [2]

Peace,

Jen Gilbart

[1] Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 32.

[2]  Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 33.

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