Compassion for Self

I had a couple of requests for Sunday’s latest installment on our compassion series. This is not exactly what I said, but it’s close.

Some of you may only know Al Franken as the Senator from Minnesota, but many of us know that long before he went on to lead a political life, he was everybody’s favorite self-help guru Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live.  He had everyone in the country saying his mantra, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me.”

This morning we’re talking about having loving yourself. Having compassion for yourself. You may be wondering what the story of the Syrophoenician woman has to do with compassion for self. Typically, when we read this passage, we focus on the behavior of Jesus, since it is so, well, un-Jesus like. But that’

The Syrophoenician woman in today’s scripture reading, must have had a little Stuart Smalley in her.  She had a sense of who she was. Inspite of what the world has told her and even what (shockingly) Jesus tells her, she knew that she is good enough. Not someone who is entitled to something. Not someone who had done something to deserve something. But someone who has access to the compassion and mercy and healing of God through Jesus Christ.

The Syrophonician somehow understood what the rest of us have so much trouble believing—God’s compassion is not something we achieve, it’s something we receive. You may chalk it all up to a desperate mother making one last ditch effort to save her child, but I think there is something more here. A woman who gets who Jesus is and who she is in light of that.

And that last part is what we need to talk about today. Who we are in light of who Christ is. What our reflection looks like in the shadow of the cross.

You see, if we really believe that God is God and that we are created in God’s image. If we believe we are loved so much that God became one of us and died for us and beat back death for us, then we have to believe that we are special—not unique—because God created all of us and Christ died for all of us—but special and loved and lovingly made. If God created us and saves us and loves us, how can we do anything less than treat ourselves with compassion? How can we do anything less than love ourselves? How can we even begin to respond to God’s amazing love if we can’t love ourselves, knowing that we are made in God’s image?

But when it comes to being loving and compassionate, the person who often gets the least of it from us is…us.

It goes back to something I said about the SP woman. God’s love and compassion isn’t something we achieve, it’s something we receive. Compassion for our self is the same. It is not something to be earned. It is something to be freely given and received.

And that goes against the grain of EVERYTHING the world ever teaches us. The world tells us that our value is based on the number of games we win, the grades we get, the amount of money we make, how high we can get on the ladder, the volume of stuff we have. The world tells us that our value is based on what we do and what we achieve.

So that:

When we have screw up or skip a meeting,

When we miss the point or miss the goal

When we hurt someone or hinder progress,

When we lose our way or just lose our keys

We are harsh, rather than compassionate, with ourselves because we, too, have confused who we are with what we do. And that’s just a bad place to be.

When we are not compassionate with ourselves:

  • We depend on others to “fill our tanks”
  • We become really impatient with ourselves for not being perfect
  • We put ourselves down
  • We are quick to feel guilt and shame.
  • Guilt is when we feel bad that made a mistake and shame is when we feel like we are the mistake.
  • We  crave compliments, but then feel embarrassed and undeserving when we receive them.
  • We don’t take care of ourselves. Eating. Sleeping. Exercising. Friendships. Spiritual & Personal Growth. When we make time for these things we are loving ourselves. [i]

I wish (in honor of football season) that I could just have everyone huddle up and we’d put our hands together and yell, “Compassssssssiiiiiooooonnnnnn and break!” And then we’d all leave here and always be compassionate towards everyone including ourselves for now and all time.  But if it were that easy, we’d all already be doing it.

So how do we work toward becoming more compassionate toward and with ourselves?  I can offer at least three things that might help steer us in the right direction:

One is to stay in contact with our Creator. Are we reading scripture, talking with God, making time for prayer every day? When we stay in regular contact with the God who created us, it makes it easier for us to remember in whose image we are created. When we remind ourselves how much God loves us, it makes it easier to remember to love ourselves.

Second is to get rid of those feelings and emotions that don’t belong to us. The catch-22 of trying to become more compassionate towards ourselves is that when we catch ourselves failing at it, we tend to beat ourselves up for not being better at being compassionate.  It’s a vicious cycle. The truth is, no matter who we are or how evolved and enlighten we become, there will be times when we will feel unworthy, unlovable and unsuccessful.

At our house, we are big fans of Project Runway, the fashion design reality show.  Each show, all the designers head to a store called “Mood” to get their fabric. The designers on the show are all very concerned about staying true to their “design aesthetic.” They talk about that a lot. Sometimes, one will pull out a bolt of fabric and then say, “That’s not really my aesthetic.”

So imagine if “Mood” were really a store full of moods and feelings. It’s where you could find anxiety, self-loathing, guilt and shame. When you find yourself drawn to the color and texture of a feeling that is not compassionate and not helpful, you admit that there was an initial pull toward the non-compassionate.  But instead of kicking yourself for your choice, just acknowledge it, put it back in its place and say, “That’s just not my aesthetic. That doesn’t fit who I know I am and who I want to be.”

The third thing is knowing that even though Stuart Smalley is a bit ridiculous, he makes a good point. It’s important that we affirm those things we love about ourselves.  We are so quick to acknowledge our flaws, but so reluctant to own our attributes. Go ahead and do those daily affirmations. Embrace loving yourself. It’s a good thing to do, because when we love ourselves:

  • It’s okay when our team loses, because our value isn’t tied in to our abilty to win
  • If we don’t get the job, our lives are not destroyed because we know the difference between what we do and who we are.
  • We can make other people’s joy our joy, rather than allowing other people’s joy to steal our joy.
  • We can be in a relationship with someone, not because we need them, but because we like them.
  • We can be in a full relationship with the God who created us and loves us.

So keep in touch with your Creator

Put back those feelings and moods and emotions that don’t belong to your self aesthetic, and

Unabashedly affirm yourself on a daily basis.

Remember, you are good enough and smart enough, and doggone it, God made you. Treat yourself accordingly.

–Rev. Anne Russ


[i] http://www.firstparishyork.org/full-backup/sermons/selflove.html “On Loving Yourself” by Rev. Rich Knight

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