God’s love: the source of self-compassion

“Self-compassion allows us to access a safe space of love and belonging in the midst of our imperfection because it is sourced in a Love beyond ourselves.”

My own journey toward self-compassion began with a simple observation from a passage of scripture I’ve known for a long time:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Cor 1:3,4

What I noticed for the first time was the fact that God’s offer of comfort puts no per-qualifiers on the source of our affliction.

If I am hurting because of my foolishness, God offers me comfort.

If I am hurting because of my sin, God offers me comfort.

If I am hurting because of my own neglect, God offers me comfort.

God’s comfort is not in response to my doing or not doing but simply to my being and my pain. The love and comfort of God are like the rain and sunshine, falling on the righteous and unrighteous, the good and the evil, the just and the unjust.  (Matthew 5:43-48)  In fact, that kind of God-sourced love is God’s definition of being perfect.

A few months ago, I had my first at-fault car accident in almost 40 years of driving.  (Thanks be to God no one was seriously injured.) Now there may have been some mitigating factors, but when you rear end someone, it’s a pretty clear call that you’ve done something big time wrong. I was distracted by who knows what and I ran into the back of the car of a really nice guy stopped at a pedestrian crosswalk. As I stood beside the road waiting for my husband and the tow truck, it occurred to me that this was a wonderful opportunity to practice receiving the comfort and compassion of God. I had no idea how hard that would be.

As I battled this voice of self-criticism and that accusation of self-contempt, I found the image of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery coming to mind repeatedly.

The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.

Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”

“No one, Master.”

“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.” (John 8:3–11 The Message)

This woman was a sinner: no argument there from Jesus.  Though there were likely mitigating factors,  the fact of her poor choice was inescapable.

So, why was Jesus’ first move to stoop low and write on the ground, to physically place himself below her?  Since she had been made to stand in their midst, maybe a larger target for the stones (cringe!), I cannot help but feel that Jesus lowered himself to catch her shame and terror-filled eyes.

In those days after my accident, as the shame and self-criticism tried to take hold, I sensed the same thing: Jesus kept trying to catch my eye with his. I kept seeing him kneeling on the ground beside me.  I didn’t care a whit what he was writing.  Just that he was there with kind eyes, trying to connect in the midst of the disconnecting forces of shame and offering comfort in the midst of the undeniable reality of my error. He was trying to help me remember that, along with everyone else on the planet, I am prone to make mistakes and bad decisions and still worthy of love and belonging just because God loves me.

As I have said before, I am a huge fan of Brene Brown.  My favorite moment in all of her uber-famous TED talks was in the first one when she talked about holding a baby and instead of saying, “Oh, you are so perfect,” saying instead,  “Oh you are so imperfect. And you are wired for struggle. But you are completely worthy of love and belonging.”  That was what Jesus’ eyes must have said to that woman long ago and were seeking to say to me.

As Kristin Neff points out in her book, Self-Compassion, self-compassion is not the same as self-esteem.  Promoting good self-esteem tends to deny the reality of our imperfection and so is, ultimately, not real and not sustainable. It also steals the healthy motivational power of true guilt (more about that in a future blog). Self-compassion, however, allows us to access a safe space of love and belonging in the midst of our imperfection because it is sourced in a Love beyond ourselves, God’s ever-present love for us.  And that safe place is actually great soil for real change.

Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”

Self-compassion and authenticity

“If Jesus were with me today, what would he see?  What would he say?”

 

So often, the poet (Cheryl Lawrie in this case) says it best:

…reluctantly
we let go the idea that somehow it was ever
going to be perfect -
or even wearable in public….

What would my life be like if I just gave up the always illusive goal of trying to “get my act together” and accepted the reality that it’s never “going to be perfect- or even wearable in public?”

What if the first step toward living the freedom of self-compassion is to surrender to the truth about my life, to tell the truth, to risk the vulnerability of authenticity, even with myself?

When Martha (Luke 10: 38-42) was in a twit, Jesus invited her to tell the truth about her anxiety: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things…”

Could she possibly have not recognized her own suffering?  If she has seen it and dared to be honest about it, might she have seen the care of Jesus, known self-compassion, and sat down with Mary?  Might the accusations of Jesus’ neglect and Mary’s selfishness been avoided?

I recall a time several years ago when I got off the phone with one of our daughters and had eaten 5 points worth of my Weight Watchers daily allotment before I realized that something in our conversation had upset me. It wasn’t even time for lunch.

If only Jesus had been standing there with his mirror… I would have enjoyed those 5 points much more if I had been in a state of savoring self-awareness rather than in numbing flight from my pain.

In my blindness, there was no opportunity to know the compassion of God or self-compassion. The pain and shame just kept churning inside of me, shredding.

If Jesus were with me today, what would he see?  What would he say?

So, here’s my big confession: I’m leaving in a few minutes to lead a retreat this weekend and I find myself worried and bothered.  My stomach is tight; not horribly so, but noticeably tense.

Will they like me?  Will they laugh and engage?  Will they argue with my ideas or uncover just how little I really know?  Will they talk to me in the off times or avoid me?  Will they yawn? Will they pity me or think me a fool?  Will I be insensitive and ask too much of them or do harm in some way? Will they be disappointed and think it was a waste of time and money?

You would think a woman who has written an entire book on self-sabotage would be a little more secure, right?  Not so mu

But here’s the good news: because I have been honest about where I am and where I am not, I can access the comfort and love of God. I can locate that

thread of grace
that won’t let it come undone.

I can remember the love of God and open myself to receive God’s care in the midst of my limitation and my fear. I can have compassion on my pain and even, amazingly, begin to offer thanks for the strength to live into my calling in the midst of my anxiety and insecurity. I can also begin to see the wisdom and the goodness and love within my fear.  Insecurity is not the whole story.  I can see concern for faithfulness and the importance of my choice to be cautious with tender hearts.  I can also see that I take my own work and words seriously, owning their power, as well as the stewardship of my gifts and these moments with which I’ve been entrusted. In the safety of my own self-compassion, I see myself more clearly, both the grace and the suffering.

So, how about you?  If Jesus were with you today, what would he see?  What would he say?  Can you hear his compassion for you and begin to extend the same to yourself?

 

Self-compassion

 

“How can I learn to forgive myself?  should I?”

The more I live, the more I discover the importance of self-compassion.  I have been pondering this for the last year or so, and for me, it’s an ever-expanding field of inquiry.  There is a lot out there in the world of research as well as from the perspective of other faith traditions like Buddhism.  But what does the Christian faith have to say on this topic?  The journey has sparked several questions for me:

  • If the Bible says that God’s comfort (2 Cor 1:3-6)  is ever available to me in an unqualified way, why does it often feel so hard to access?
  • How can I forgive myself when I have hurt someone else?  Should I?
  • Why are the voices within me so brutal toward me?
  • Is there some part of me that believes that self-criticism is helpful?  Is it?
  • Can I extend compassion to others if I cannot do so for myself?
  • How do I change these long standing patterns?
  • How does the Christian faith see self-compassion?  What do we see in the stories of women in the Bible?
  • What role does perfectionism play in lack of self-compassion?
  • What is the cost of a lack of self-compassion?
  • How do guilt and shame play into lack of self-compassion?

My hope is to use Fridays to explore this topic with you. I hope you come along, adding your questions and insights!  Here are a few voices that I plan to include on the journey:

Brene Brown. Brene is a shame researcher from the University of Houston who talks about self-compassion being critical to our compassion for others.

Kristin Neff Kristin is a compassion researcher from the University of Texas. For a of self-compassion, listen to this watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Tyl6YXp1Y6Mwatch?feature=player_embedded&v=Tyl6YXp1Y6M.

You can also take a test to rate your self-compassion.

Join me next Friday and we will begin to explore self-compassion by looking at the stories of a few women in the Bible and the topic of self-compassion and authenticity.  In the meanwhile, please, add your questions to the journey.