You’re Too Hard on Yourself
As a pastor I often found myself saying some version of this to people who came to me for counsel. “I think you’re being a little hard on yourself.” That was the way I usually put it. Often, on hearing this, it seemed as if a person visibly relaxed.
Recently, I had a “physician heal thyself” kind of experience. In a dream a message was brought to me in some sort of woven box. On opening the box I found a piece of paper with the words, “You’re too hard on yourself.”
I do think that many of us suffer from this. I wrote a bit about it in a recent post on “Shame.” This is why, for me, grace — God’s initiative and love, free and unearned, often surprising and sometimes upsetting — is the very heart of the gospel.
Recently I came across this, attributed to the Buddha:
“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
This was in the book The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief by Francis Weller. Weller leads workshops on self-compassion.
He begins his workshops by saying that he sees, “Our time together as a project in ‘non-self-improvement.'” Nice.
Years ago I found the book Loving Yourself as Your Neighbor by Mark Taylor (who teaches at Seattle U.) and Carmen Berry also helpful in exploring these themes from a Christian context and perspective.
Taylor and Beery wrote of what they called, “The Messiah Trap.”
“The Messiah Trap is comprised of two lies: (1) If I don’t do it, it won’t get done; and (2) Everyone else’s needs take priority over mine.”
The terrible irony here is that for many people these two “lies” are in some ways the essence of what they understand as Christianity. Be responsible. Uber-responsible. And always put others needs ahead of your own.
Those imperatives, even when clearly named for us as lies, don’t die an easy death. They have pretty deep roots.
And that is, at least in part, because they are not only lies. They are also truth. Or maybe put it this way: there is truth in them. Accepting responsibility and showing up are crucial. Being aware of the needs and situation of others is basic.
But like all partial truths, these truths become dangerous when made into the whole, ultimate or exclusive truth.
(That, by the way, is the definition of heresy: making of a partial truth the whole truth.)
So I’m trying to practice compassion for myself as well as for others.
I bring this up now as we are at the end, it seems, of Seattle’s winter weather event with all its enforced closures and days of enclosure. As noted in an earlier piece, there are delightful gifts in a snowstorm.
But after a time, you begin to feel, house-bound and routines all fruit-basket-upset, as if you’ve become some sort of sloth. I should be busy. I should be accomplishing things, urge the little voices in our heads.
Self-judgment and recrimination rear up as our lives are on ice, literally.
Well, things are getting — for the moment — back to normal around here. But the need for treating oneself with compassion endures.
Self-compassion and self-love can also, of course, be easily distorted. Every good thought, idea, aspiration is capable of being distorted, enlisted in foolishness and self-indulgence. That’s what John Calvin meant when he spoke of “total depravity.” That anything and everything, even the good things — the best things — can be fucked up.
But, for me and perhaps for you, that seems less a danger than the other extreme: not being gracious enough to ourselves.
Years ago when the book “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” was popular, I think it was William Sloane Coffin who suggested the Christian version of that might be, “I’m Not Okay and You’re Not Okay — But That’s Okay.”
Grace and peace be with you all. And I mean it.