“…our compassion must start with ourselves. Before I am asked to show compassion toward my brothers and sisters in their suffering, I am asked to accept the compassion of Jesus in my own life, to be transformed by it, and to become caring and compassionate toward myself in my own failure and hurt, in my own suffering and need…This is the heart of the gospel – that we can be gracious and compassionate toward ourselves.” – Brennan Manning
This quote came to the forefront of my mind for a couple of reasons. The first was a conversation with a friend where we discussed how, as children, we both had a difficult time forgiving ourselves for our mistakes and were often very self-critical. How we’ve both worked hard to overcome this tendency as adults but can sometimes revert back to it from time to time.
Literally minutes after this conversation, I came across an online article in The New York Times entitled, Why Self-Compassion Beats Self-Confidence. Talk about good timing! The article reviewed a book by Eric Barker called Barking Up the Wrong Tree and it made some really good points, such as this one:
“While self-confidence makes you feel better about your abilities, it can also lead you to vastly overestimate these abilities. Self-compassion, on the other hand, encourages you to acknowledge your flaws and limitations, allowing you to look at yourself from a more objective and realistic point of view. Both have merits, but many experts believe that self-compassion includes the advantages of self-confidence without the drawbacks.”
The phrase, “acknowledge your flaws and limitations, allowing you to look at yourself from a more objective and realistic point of view,” resonates with me greatly because I had come to this realization myself this last fall. At the time, I wasn’t following through with some goals I had set for myself and had fallen into my old self-critical, self-condemning pattern which put a damper on my enjoyment of other areas of my life as well.
But after struggling along in this way for a while, I somehow decided to simply acknowledge the reality of the situation, give myself grace for the moment and to live into the place where I currently found myself. While this might seem like an insignificant shift in thinking, it radically transformed my enjoyment of the season God had me in.
Instead of beating myself up over the things I “should” be doing, I found new, enriching ways to fill up my time. I signed up for a yoga class with friends, I joined a contemplative prayer group, and I went to the gym or on walks with friends more often. I didn’t give up on my goals but I was able to consciously set them aside for a while in order to give myself room to breathe, enjoy life and regroup.
In doing so, I feel like I lived out the truth of Brennan Manning’s earlier quote. Deciding to become more gracious and compassionate towards myself did indeed change me from the inside out. And I hope this in turn changed how I was able to share Christ’s love with those around me during this time.
It encourages me how Brennan struggled with this idea of having self-compassion in his own life but was still mightily used by God in spite of it. And dare I say perhaps influenced others even more greatly by openly acknowledging his flaws instead of hiding them away? I know after reading his memoir, All Is Grace, I was struck again by the realization of how hard but vitally important it is to give the grace God offers us to ourselves.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17 NIV)