Self-care, meditation, mindfulness and self-compassion are all buzzwords in our present culture. Christians often dismiss any buzzword or part of popular culture as “unbiblical”. Either that, or “spiritualize” it to make it acceptable to “Bible believing Christians”. Recently I faced the question, “Is self-compassion Christian?” You may have wondered the very same thing at one time or another. I can’t help but think that centuries of legalism in the church condemning anything with “self” attached contributed to this attitude.
Welcome to Mindfulness Monday! Where we learn some easy ways to be more present “in the moment” at our jobs, in our homes, with our families and friends.
Learning to recognize God and what He has for us in each divine moment He offers. We acknowledge the belief that God is with us always.
We confess His presence is available to us, lifting our spirit and helping us with power and grace. Learning the art of “stillness” so we can hear His voice and view ourselves, others and our surroundings through His eyes.
To answer the question, “Is self-compassion Christian?” We must first understand what self-compassion really means. Many Christians connect the idea of self-compassion to the mindfulness movement. This becomes problematic because of alleged connections to Buddhism. And, as a result, we end up questioning, “is self-compassion Christian?” But neither of these concepts requires a connection to any religion in order to have value for mental health.
Consider this simple definition of mindfulness:
Mindfulness in the context of self-compassion comprises acknowledging your painful experiences in a balanced way that neither ignores nor ruminates on the disliked characteristics of yourself or life. Mindfulness tends to focus on the internal experience such as sensation, emotion, and thoughts rather than focusing on the person having the experience. Self-compassion focuses on soothing and comforting yourself when faced with distressing experiences.
When viewed this way, you can see mindfulness focuses on the subjective experience of your thoughts, feelings and senses. While compassion for yourself focuses on outward circumstances and your response to them. Self-compassion manifests in responses like; “How can I offer myself grace when I don’t react the way I prefer?” “How can I remain calm and balanced when I fail?” Or “How can I accept my imperfections and grow through this experience?” From this perspective, you can begin to see how compassion for yourself fits in with a Christian worldview. We are all sinners living in a broken world. How do we deal with that reality daily without falling prey to self-hatred or discouragement?
Grace (self-compassion) is the gospel
Sadly, the church experiences high levels of legalism. Which by the way, is the modern buzzword for “pharisaism”. Christ made it clear in Matthew 23 exactly how He viewed legalism. Legalism makes it difficult for us to accept the truth of the gospel, adding rules and regulations with focus on “performance” and “earning” acceptance. But the truth is, we are unable to live good enough to justify ourselves. Instead, Christ offers us “grace”; assurance that God loves us as we are. (Romans 5:8). Yet the fact that few of us live lives as “loved” people, testifies to our fear of accepting this free gospel grace.
Instead we prefer to hold control of our own worthiness through legalism. Somehow we think it’s taking the easy way out to accept the reality of a grace-filled God. We fear that accepting grace and compassion from God when we fail, somehow cheapens that grace and prevents us from growing and improving. Actually this is not true. Offering compassion to ourselves, allows room for repentance, learning from our mistakes, working toward goals, and spiritual transformation. Self-compassion facilitates personal and spiritual growth by removing the fear of failure.
self-compassion vs self-hatred
If we do not engage in showing ourselves compassion, but rather criticism or harsh correction, we move towards self-hatred. When we adopt the practice of berating and condemning ourselves when we don’t act or respond well, we develop a negative view of ourselves. This negative view not only dishonors God but fosters an attitude that we can earn acceptance before God. God created us in His image, and states we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) When we refuse to treat ourselves with kindness (as God does) when we fail, we dishonor Him.
Knowing the truth that in Christ we find no condemnation for any sin or failure, allows us the freedom of honesty about our sin before God. Opening up the opportunity to receive God’s grace, forgiveness and love. In turn, we freely view our frustration and pain, in a healthy, constructive way. Self-compassion recognizes and internalizes God’s compassion for us. If you cannot offer compassion to yourself, you will not receive God’s compassion for you, much less offer it to someone else. Apart from self-compassion you view yourself as “unworthy” and remain distant from God’s healing love and compassion. This mindset keeps us from moving forward by continually struggling with whether self-compassion is Christian?
Kristin Neff is an academic researcher who studies self-compassion and has pioneered research about the concept. She concludes that, a self-compassionate person will offer kindness to herself instead of harsh criticism. And as a result, understands that she is only human, just like everyone else. She is not unique in her experience of pain and failure, and she knows that. From this position she connects with her experiences (instead of avoiding them), identifying issues, but not overly identifying with her pain.
Keep in mind that healthy self-compassion avoids the following pitfalls:
- Self-pity. Having self-compassion does not elevate your experiences over those of others as if you have it harder than anyone else.
- Weakness. Self-compassion does not mean you sit and coddle your shortcomings without trying again to do better. You don’t just sit in your failures using weakness as an excuse.
- Complacency. Showing self-compassion does not mean you accept yourself as you are, with the mind that you never attempt to grow and change.
- Narcissism. Self-compassion does not elevate you to be boastful, presumptuous or self-important.
- Selfishness. Self-compassion does not exclude the need for compassion towards others, and is not unbalanced and unhealthy in exclusive self-focus.
ways to practice healthy self compassion
Self-care is definitely part of self-compassion. Simply expressed, self-care is taking care of yourself the way a parent takes care of a child. Avoiding self-neglect by ensuring you get enough sleep, nutritious food, movement, solitude and fellowship in community. If you tend toward self-neglect, begin to show compassion to yourself by building small habits of self-care that will enhance your emotional and physical well-being.
Don’t blame-shift; take responsibility for your own faults. Acknowledge your identity as a human being who is both flawed and loved. Recognize the forgiveness that God offers for your sin in Christ. God made you and knows you fully, intimately. The motive of self-compassion should not be selfish, but life-giving. This allows us to be healthy emotionally, spiritually and physically and offer that same compassion to others.
Practical Self-Compassion Tips
As you express kindness to yourself, learn to ask questions that will improve the way you react to difficult situations or temptations. Seek to identify stressors in your life and institute boundaries with better self-discipline.
Some practical ways to do this are:
- Asking yourself “What practical things can I do to improve my situation?“
- Think about how you would respond to a friend in a similar situation.
- Consider making a list of Bible verses that remind you of your identity in Christ, God’s love, forgiveness and compassion for you.
- Learn to quickly recognize critical self-talk.
- Learn to quickly recognize self-neglect actions.
self-compassion mindfulness exercise
Sometimes we all need a way to settle ourselves before God and re-focus, especially when we know we have failed. This mindfulness exercise will help you to speak truth to your heart in a hard place and offer healthy compassion to yourself. As always I like to begin any mindfulness session with a quick Mindful Check-in; the full instructions are in his post. Please don’t skip this part, as it helps to settle your mind and bring awareness to your current emotions. Then continue as follows:
- Sitting comfortably, with your back supported, put your hands over your heart.
- Speak either out loud or quietly in your mind: “God loves me just as I am.” ‘I am perfect in God’s eyes.” “I will give my anxiety and shame to Him.” “I receive His compassion.”
- Breathe in for a count of four. Breathe out for a count of four. Repeat four times.
- Sit quietly in God’s presence, allowing the Holy Spirit to minister to you.
- Close your time with a moment of gratitude for God.
is self-compassion christian?
Mindfulness is rooted in self-compassion; without self-compassion moment by moment awareness is painful. Life is hard and we generally labor to avoid awareness. Unfortunately the result is we carry a belief that life is hard because we’re doing something wrong. We begin comparing ourselves to others’ accomplishments, marriages, parenting, financial status and spirituality, and think “what is wrong with me?” Blaming ourselves for things we have no control over.
Through self-compassion, we change this response and notice that life isn’t hard because we’re doing something wrong. Life is hard for everyone. We open up to receiving God’s grace and forgiveness. Learning to respond kindly to ourselves, as we would to a friend in the same situation. We stop dishonoring God through self-hatred and self-condemnation. Confident in His love and promise that He will in no way cast us out. Is self-compassion Christian? I believe it is not only Christian, but it encompasses preaching the gospel truth to ourselves. Which in turn, set us free and glorifies God.
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