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Self Compassion as Spiritual Discipline

appletree by riverBy Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of theirLeading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog and is one of the social media coordinators for the Shalem Institute Facebook page.

As the saying goes, we are all human. And,  suspect we all can be less than generous occasionally to those around us. But, how do we treat ourselves? At times it’s way easier to love my neighbor and be understanding, realizing “there but for the grace of God go I.”

When my spiritual director at the time talked to me about the quote, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” I had no problem with the “love your neighbor” part. But wait, I am supposed to love myself like I love others? Wow!

I’m sure there are some of you out there who suffer, like me, from the tendency to be hard on yourself.

“I should have done …; I know better; why didn’t I remember to …; I am working on being more….”  So, this loving myself piece, knowing I am worthy of the love God gives me simply because I live and treating myself to that appreciation was a revelation.

A new prayer was given to me recently, “Dear God, please help me to give myself the compassion that you give me. Help me to love myself as you love me.” I’m using it as my mantra: compassion in, compassion out.

When I don’t do it perfectly, as I know I can’t simply because humans are not meant to be perfect, I try to allow myself the space and grace for it to be okay. And when I am able to let go of that need to try so hard, I surrender to God. I give over all that energy and just “am” in and of myself and allow God to do the rest.

What is your experience?

8 responses to “Self Compassion as Spiritual Discipline”

  1. Thank you for your post. It reminds me of a prayer I’ve prayed through the years but have forgotten recently. It is inspired by something written by Fr. Wm McNamara and goes (from memory), “Make me compassionate, O God. Become through me what from all generations you have wanted to be.”

  2. miran541 says:

    I appreciate the mantra — my impatience with my less than perfect self is never-ending! Coincidentally my spiritual director and I were just talking about this very issue earlier this week.
    Now to practice what you suggest.

  3. Lorilyn Wiering says:

    I’ve been intentionally practicing self-compassion over the last couple months after a friend pointed out to me my lack thereof. What I have noticed is a suppleness replacing the rigidity that would come up in my former practice of just trying to “suck it up.” This suppleness allows me to be more present to the situation at hand and less reactive. Being gentle with myself is allowing me to extend a deeper gentleness to those around me.

    Although not from a Christian perspective, I was helped by Kristine Neff”s book entitled simply “Self Compassion.”

  4. My experience is very similar to yours. Whenever I hear those voices in my head, I ask myself, “Would you say that to a friend?” If the answer is no – and it always is – I gently tell myself I’m doing fine. My experience of God’s correction and guidance is so much kinder than my own towards myself! It extends to simple things, like taking the time to make a healthy meal or going to bed at a reasonable hour. I try to take care of myself the same way I would take care of a child. Because I think in the end, it’s my wounded inner child who is being punished by those voices. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. Self compassion does not come easy for me. I find that I demand a tremendous amount from myself and I forget that I am human. I need to constantly remind myself that care of self, including praying for my own needs, is necessary if I want to be of service to others.

    • Bill Britton says:

      I love what Parker Palmer says about this: “Self care is never a selfish act. It is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have – the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.” I’ve memorized this and it’s helping to really set me free from many self-imposed demands. It has given me permission to care for myself – a nap, relaxation, Sabbath keeping (!), etc.

  6. Loving Yourself for God’s Sake by Adolfo Quezada is a great resource. I keep it by my bedside.

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