The joy of self-compassion

Self-compassion is not only good for our mental health, it is a supremely Christian practice.

The joy of self-compassion
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love … he does not treat us as our sins deserve.” (Psalm 103:8,10)

I have been going through a difficult time lately, so I have been doing some reading about resilience and mental health. One of the pieces of advice that has come up frequently in the books I have read is to practise self-compassion.

I don’t know about you, but I am instantly suspicious about the idea of self-compassion. It sounds to my ears like self-indulgence, which is something I have learnt from an early age to be wary about. Self-compassion might just be a mask for self-centredness and an excuse to think and act selfishly. Furthermore, as Christians, aren’t we called to be self-giving, to serve others rather than ourselves? There is a lot in my mind that reacts to the concept of self-compassion, and perhaps you can relate to some of it as well.

But self-compassion isn’t about being selfish or self-centred. Self-compassion is about being kind to yourself, not overly judgement or critical of our own thoughts or actions. Self compassion is not self-indulgent, it is a right and helpful way to approach ourselves when we are hurting, struggling or feeling low.

There is an extra dimension to self-compassion for those of us who are Christians. As I have thought about this I have come to realise this important truth: self-compassion is looking at ourselves as God looks at us.

I am my own worst critic. I am very hard on myself when things go wrong (or when I think things have gone wrong). I speak to myself harshly and think the worst about myself.

Self-compassion says I need to stop being so harsh and hard with myself and treat myself with kindness and compassion. The secular self-help books stop there, but as Christians we can take another key encouragement. This is the way God treats us.

God is a God of kindness and compassion. When he revealed himself to Moses, he declared his name “the LORD”, adding this explanation:

“the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6)

This description of God’s character is repeated throughout the Bible, not least in Psalm 103 where King David adds “he does not treat us as our sins deserve”.

I do not often treat myself with grace and compassion. I am often quick to be angry with my mistakes. I treat myself with what I think I deserve for the things I perceive to be wrong. But God does not. He treats me gently and kindly, with loving compassion. He does not treat me as my sins (perceived or otherwise) deserve, but shows me infinite grace. He is patient with me (2 Peter 3:9). He leads me with a Father’s kindness (Hosea 11:4). He has dealt completely with all my sin and shame.

If God treats me this way, should I not treat myself the same way? This is not self-indulgence but true self-acceptance, recognising that I am flawed but loved. We cannot deal with ourselves more harshly than our Heavenly Father deals with us. Let us exercise self-compassion because God is compassionate toward each one of us.

Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash