Friday, December 28, 2012

Gentle ...

"I never understood it when I was younger," my friend said to me. "But as I get older, the saying 'Be gentle with yourself' makes more and more sense."

I nodded. Rare is the person in our western society, especially in the church it seems, who treats himself or herself as kindly as he or she would treat others. It's part and parcel of our culture, it seems, to be hard on ourselves, to think of ourselves last (believing this to be selfless and altruistic) instead of looking after ourselves so that we have enough in reserve to give to others without burning out! 

I spent years like that, burning out time after time, growing to resent the very people I was trying to help. Decades. It boggles my mind when I think about it. And all the time I was doing that, I thought I was "being a good person" and even "being Christ-like." 


The depth and scope of my self-deception was such that it touched every facet of my existence. 

Typical behaviors included:
  • letting everyone else choose what they wanted at a buffet and going in afterward to choose from what everyone else didn't want,
  • going into a department store and getting something to wear for everyone in the family except for me,
  • supporting and encouraging people who thought so little of themselves that they needed constant affirmation, with little or no change,
  • never asking for any time off from my volunteer position at church, even filling in for anyone who was sick or on vacation (when they didn't advise the volunteer coordinator in advance),
  • staying in unhealthy relationships far too long, 
  • trying to "fix" my family members and friends (veiled as "giving advice" or "caring"),
  • beating myself up when I made a mistake and not forgiving myself,
  • holding myself back from reaching for my own dreams and aspirations for career or ministry,
  • procrastinating on implementing healthy habits for myself,
  • putting myself down, criticizing my looks, my abilities, and my possessions ALL THE TIME (which was really a manipulation of other people to make them feel guilty or bad for me, and then they'd tell me nice things about myself to "make me feel better"),
  • never saying "No" to the demands of my family and/or friends, and
  • never saying "Yes" to what would feed my own spirit or heart.
Me in 2004

I was brought up to believe that self-love was selfISH. However, in the last nearly four years, I've learned that if I don't take the time to be gentle to myself, it not only hurts me but those around me, because I will be running on empty and unable to respond - only react ... and usually not well. 

I'm not talking about pandering to Ego (heard a great acronym for EGO: "Edging God Out") or rather, to Egotism, which is a more accurate term for self-centeredness and arrogance.  I'm talking about recognizing that as much as I want others to feel good about themselves because they are human beings ... I too am a human being and I need to cut myself a break sometimes. I need to be good to myself, to treat myself as I would a friend. 

After all, one of the Great Commandments is to "love your neighbor as yourself." Well, if I loathe myself, and do everything in my power to sabotage myself, I won't know how to love my neighbor, will I?

Hmm. That thought keeps occurring to me. It must be important.

So, for the last three and a half years especially, I've been doing more and more to look after myself, to follow my dreams, to work toward what I want for my life, to draw boundaries where before I didn't even know I had a right to them, to say "No" once in a while, and to make time for myself on a regular basis. 

It all makes a difference. My life today as compared to four years ago is ... well, simply astonishing to me. The best thing is - and I have to credit being gentle with myself for part of it - for the first time in my life, I feel comfortable inside my own skin and I am actually ... happy.

Nobody is more surprised about that than I am.  :D

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