After being in the ICU with Covid, my New Year’s Resolution isn’t about my weight—it’s to be a better neighbor

By Max Bender on Unsplash

We look forward to the new year, especially after the disaster that has been 2020. I cannot argue that I am looking to 2021 as a better year than last; I spent three weeks in the intensive care unit fighting for my life against Covid-19, and I am still learning to walk and breathe on my own. I lost the ability to swallow without aspirating food and liquid into my lungs, so I was given a feeding tube. My body got smaller—yes, an American success—but at the risk of my life.

“A month on a feeding tube—can you imagine how much weight you could lose?” A nurse said this to me as I lay in bed in the step-down unit after transitioning out of the I.C.U. Yes, the thought had crossed my mind. But thankfully, I know that the purpose of my body is not to be thinner; the purpose of my body is to help me establish a relationship with God and with my neighbor as myself.

As the new year approaches, our televisions and timelines will be filled with advertisements for the latest fitness trends and diet craze. But here is a revolutionary, rather un-American idea: Those are not the things we need in 2021.

In my many years in a larger-than-socially-acceptable body, I have learned that God is not disappointed with my today body. God is not asking me to lose weight or make myself smaller in the New Year (or ever). He celebrates my body as the good one he created. My body is good today, because God did not make me for the purpose of being healthy. God made me for relationship. To demand physical health from my body is an ableist mindset, which is distinctly contrary to Catholic teaching that the sick and chronically ill are valuable and loved in our today bodies. In my weak body, I’ve found myself clinging to Jesus’ upside-down kingdom, the truth that “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27).

Yes, we all crave rules to know that we are getting things right. That is why workout regimens and diet regimes are so popular. But, ultimately, they do not fulfill or satisfy. The goalposts are always changing as we strive to be thinner, stronger, healthier. Rules, even good rules like the Ten Commandments, are no replacement for relationship with God. The same is true of ourselves and our neighbors.

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The goalpost that does not change is God’s invitation to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is what we need in 2021—a resolve to orient our lives more toward our neighbors and to extend to them the love and welcome of Jesus.

Here are some suggestions for New Year’s resolutions that have nothing to do with making yourself smaller.

Here are some suggestions for New Year’s resolutions that have nothing to do with making yourself smaller and have everything to do with opening our hearts toward our neighbors:

  • Ask cashiers at the store or the drive through how they are really doing, and respond with care.
  • Set aside a small amount each week to load onto gift cards to give when you encounter someone in need.
  • Write monthly handwritten notes of care to your elderly neighbors.
  • Instead of arguing with friends online about points of doctrine or politics, call up that friend and see how they are doing.
  • Go for a weekly socially distanced walk with a friend who lives alone.

For Catholics and Christians of every stripe, neighbor love is entwined with the love of God. May we remember as we prepare to enter 2021 that the purpose of our body is not to be thinner or stronger or even physically healthier; the purpose of our body is relationship with God and with our neighbor as ourselves. I’m trying to remember this daily as I practice taking literal baby steps and breathe with the help of an oxygen machine at home. My weakness is not a barrier to God moving in 2021; it is an invitation to learn from others like me, a tether to my community and a reminder that the weak shame the strong in God’s economy.

In 2021, I resolve to be a better, kinder neighbor. And I can do that no matter what shape my body is in.

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