The Gift of January: Caring for Ourselves Well
by Amy Diller

We just wrapped up one of the loveliest times of the year. Celebrating our Savior’s birth and the sacred wonder of God’s plan fills hearts with peace and joy. Participating in parties with family and friends, caroling, decorating cookies, and church programs makes the season feel festive. Wearing Christmas jammies while drinking hot cocoa and watching holiday movies together are fun traditions. And these are just some of the things vying for our time in the month of December. But behind all the merry-making, we find some exhausted parents who, on top of the busyness of normal life, worked hard to create a fantastic holiday for their kids. 


The response to “How are you?” any time of the year is often answered with “Good. Busy. But good.” If there’s time for a longer conversation, we tend to list off all of the things we and our kids are involved in at the moment. For a long time now, busyness has been a thing many applaud. It’s as if being busy is expected, and a lack of running around indicates something wrong. If our kids are busy, we’re being good parents by letting them participate in everything they enjoy. If we’re busy at work, we’re being good employees as we continually go above and beyond. If we’re busy at church, we’re being better Christians by attending everything and volunteering everywhere. Please understand I’m not saying any of these things are bad or wrong. It’s a matter of maintaining a healthy balance so we don’t get to the point of complete depletion. 


The calendar has flipped to January. A new year has begun, extending the gift of a slower season if we’ll accept it. This is a natural time to reflect, examine our habits, and evaluate the speed at which we’ve been living. The new year naturally lends itself to making changes.


When busyness has become our default state, we tend to push ourselves to the bottom of the list. Taking care of our own needs seems like something we can hit the pause button on. After all, it’s just until we get through this busy stretch, right? Except it often results in us saying we’ll fit it in again later, but later never comes. 


Let’s look together at three basic needs we all share in common or three needs to reestablish and practice as we embrace this slower time of the year. 


Spiritual Needs


The most important need we have is connection with the Lord. Everything we are and everything we do is dependent on our relationship with God. We have to set aside regular time to spend with Him, sitting in His presence, talking with Him, and listening to His voice. We know this, we feel this, and we encourage our kids to do it. But we’re not always diligent about it ourselves and can be tempted to let it slide to the back burner. Doing this too often results in spiritual exhaustion.    


The best way to make certain we’re able to nurture our relationship with the Lord is to schedule it, making it a habit we don’t want to miss out on. Scheduling a time for prayer and Bible reading may seem strange. But when we put appointments on our calendars, we tend to keep them. Choose a time and a place where it’s easier to shut out the demands of the day and rest in His presence. Whether it’s first thing in the morning, lunchtime, mid-afternoon, or before bed, ensuring it fits into the natural rhythm of the day encourages us to value our spiritual health.  


Physical Needs


We should also care for our physical needs. This area of our lives often gets neglected. Isn’t it interesting that we work hard to make sure our kids are well-fed, well-rested, and physically active, but it’s easy for us to let go of some or all of these things for ourselves? 


Unless we’re intentional about it, we can easily adopt the attitude that less sleep, less exercise, and less time spent on eating in a healthy way is okay. It’s easy to skimp in the area of physical health, believing the extra time will help us get more done. The truth is a lack in any one of these activities actually makes day-to-day and extra responsibilities more difficult to manage. Physical wellness helps us recharge, reduces stress, and balances our emotional and mental health. 


Emotional Needs


We don’t always consider emotional health in the same way we do spiritual or physical health. However, when we are in the middle of or coming out of a time of extreme busyness, and we’re worn out, our emotions can be all over the place. Even though we know our feelings can’t always be trusted to reflect reality, they still affect us deeply. In this state, we can become overly sensitive and irritable, especially with our families. 


Making sure our spiritual and physical needs are being met helps our emotions come into balance. Additionally, writing in a journal can be a positive way to work through our feelings, bring clarity, and provide peace of mind. If journaling isn’t a natural outlet for you, spending time in nature often has a calming effect as you enjoy God’s creation. Sometimes, revealing your thoughts and feelings to a trusted friend and hearing a different perspective is just the thing to bring emotions back into a healthier place. For some of us, talking with a pastor or a therapist brings comfort and truth to our hearts and minds. 


We were not designed to live life continually busy without any space to breathe or to rest. Using the quieter, slower pace that January provides to focus on establishing or reestablishing a healthy rhythm spiritually, physically, and emotionally is wise. Consider changes you can make now to help yourself and your family maintain a slower approach to life even through busier times of the year. When we are taking care of ourselves, we are better able to model a healthier way to live and to give our children the best of us.