Excerpt from Be Kind to Yourself

Two Sim­ple Questions

Notice when you are bugged.” That state­ment stopped me short as I was read­ing. The things that bug me can form a low hum in my brain through­out a day. They can spoil — or threat­en to spoil — the oth­er love­ly moments of the day.

I found these words in the man­u­script for Gem and Alan Fadling’s book What Does Your Soul Love? in a sec­tion where they were describ­ing how we place our­selves in a state of open­ness before God. In my work as an edi­tor, I get to read won­der­ful books and inter­act with some very wise souls. When I am read­ing in man­u­script form, I am often in pro­fes­sion­al mode, think­ing of the struc­ture of the book, how the audi­ence will receive it, and so on. But some­times a line or sec­tion jumps out to me. Then I know those words are for me. It is God offer­ing me a nudge in the midst of the workday.

I took that state­ment and made it into a ques­tion. Then I decid­ed to make it a part of a dai­ly prac­tice. I would think about the past day and write down the answer to just two questions: 

  1. What’s bug­ging you?
  2. What’s bring­ing you joy?

Cre­at­ing that sim­ple prac­tice has been a great help to me. As I lean into it, I see where I am hooked into neg­a­tive thought pat­terns about myself or oth­ers, and what I need to let go of. I also see what brings me joy. And each day brings a new oppor­tu­ni­ty to lean into that as well. The more I under­stand about what’s bug­ging me and free myself of that, the more I am able to embrace oppor­tu­ni­ties for joy. It’s part of what I am learn­ing about being kind to myself.

The ways that we talk to our­selves about the things that are bug­ging us are a part of a prac­tice of self-kind­ness. What do I say to myself when what’s bug­ging me is that I esca­lat­ed a small mat­ter into a sit­u­a­tion where I yelled at my hus­band? How do I process those moments when I am passed over at work? Or when a friend makes a hurt­ful com­ment? Or even some­thing as mun­dane as get­ting stuck in an hour-long cus­tomer ser­vice call with no satisfaction? 

As we learn new ways of deal­ing with the moments of dif­fi­cul­ty in each day, we make space for the moments of joy to take greater hold of us.

Self-Kind­ness Leads to Empa­thy Toward Others

Scrip­ture tells us to love your neigh­bor as your­self” (Mark 12:31). And we may have even heard it not­ed in a ser­mon that we should not neglect our­selves as we care for oth­ers. But often that is sim­ply said in pass­ing as we focus on being of ser­vice to the world. Giv­ing our atten­tion to what it means to love our­selves may feel self­ish. And yet even Jesus took time away from the crowds he was teach­ing to pray (Luke 5:16).

Anoth­er ben­e­fit of this increased self-kind­ness is that when we are ten­der with our­selves, we cul­ti­vate a greater ten­der­ness and empa­thy toward oth­ers. It is a fruit of good­ness to our­selves that we increase in good­ness toward our neigh­bor. Anne Lam­ott describes how she learned from oth­ers who were get­ting sober that extend­ing our­selves to oth­ers would help us stay sober and sane.” The pat­tern of get­ting a spon­sor in AA fol­lows this prin­ci­ple. But then Lam­ott con­tin­ues: They also want­ed us to extend our­selves to our own hor­ri­ble selves, at our most ruined, to speak gen­tly to our­selves, get our­selves a love­ly cup of tea.” For many of us, offer­ing grace to our­selves is hard­er than extend­ing grace to others.

Over time I have dis­cov­ered prac­tices that have helped me to iden­ti­fy and work with the dai­ly pain I car­ry and also to embrace the things that bring me aware­ness of God’s very good gifts. These prac­tices are record­ed here in hopes that they will assist oth­ers in the jour­ney into deep­en­ing joy — not to be a guilt-induc­ing cat­a­log of things to do. Read and prac­tice at your own pace. Pick up the prac­tices that you are drawn to and let the oth­ers go in keep­ing with Jesus’ offer of unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:29 The Mes­sage).

A New Way to Review Each Day

I have long strug­gled with the tra­di­tion­al under­stand­ing of how to prac­tice exa­m­en, a pat­tern of prayer that comes from Saint Ignatius, the six­teenth-cen­tu­ry mys­tic and founder of the Jesuits. The basic idea is to take a bit of time in the evening to sit and men­tal­ly review the day — play it through like a movie. As you do so, notice where you felt close to God (moments of con­so­la­tion), and notice where you felt far from God (moments of des­o­la­tion). To me, it always felt like anoth­er way to feel bad­ly about myself — a way to review and recall all of my sin for the day. While I know it’s good to remem­ber my sin so that I can con­fess it to God, the review would throw me into a place of shame. Fur­ther, doing it at night remind­ed me of all the things I could be wor­ry­ing over just as I was try­ing to go to sleep. For me, it was not a good combination. 

Using these two sim­ple dai­ly review ques­tions took the edge off the pain and made the prac­tice more acces­si­ble to me. A fur­ther tweak for me was to review the pre­vi­ous day in the morn­ing. I was already in a morn­ing rou­tine of spir­i­tu­al read­ing and jour­nal­ing, so it fit right in with that. I spend a few moments think­ing about the day that has passed. Then I write in my jour­nal the answers to the two ques­tions num­bered with a 1 and a 2

Tack­ling the exa­m­en from the approach of what’s bug­ging me and what’s mak­ing me hap­py keeps me out of the sink­hole of shame. The things that bug me are — of course — not com­plete­ly out­side myself. The truth is that things that bug me the most are often the per­son­al encoun­ters that go wrong. Or they may be things that are caus­ing me wor­ry or anx­i­ety, run­ning a nev­er-end­ing men­tal loop. My part in it is my own response — whether sim­ply inter­nal or expressed. 

These ques­tions have made me more aware of the things I hold on to each day. The things that pull me down. The things that keep me from notic­ing that God is near and is con­stant­ly draw­ing me in.

Related Podcast

Tak­en from Be Kind to Your­self by Cindy Bunch. Copy­right © 2020 by Cindy Bunch. Pub­lished by Inter­Var­si­ty Press, Down­ers Grove, IL. www​.ivpress​.com

Text First Published July 2020

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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