My new spiritual practice: Is self-compassion really appropriate for Christians?
Some Pharisees are trying to trick Jesus, and they bring a woman to him. They caught her in the act of committing adultery. Jesus says that only the person who has committed no sin can condemn her, and the crowd of accusers slips away. Only Jesus and the woman are left. He says to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (John 8:11).
Jesus does not condemn a woman who has broken God’s law and human laws. Yet, at the same time, he calls her to be her best self in the future. Balancing these two components of his answer is part of how we get into trouble. Many of us were influenced by parents and teachers who tried to help us be our best selves by shaming us and criticizing us. So we think that in order to grow into the people we want to be and were meant to be, we need to shame and criticize ourselves.
We think that treating ourselves gently is a form of self-indulgence, and self-compassion can work that way if it is not coupled with a call to excellence, health and growth.
For the past four weeks I’ve been writing about my new spiritual practice: separating thoughts from feelings, feeling the feelings and letting the thoughts go if they are not healthy. In order to feel the feelings, I’ve been using a process with acronym, RAIN. Advocates for RAIN call it a form of self-compassion. Here I want to address the question of the appropriateness of this practice for Christians, using an illustration from my own life right now.
One of the major stressors in my life is our upcoming move from New Zealand, where we have lived for ten years, to Seattle, where we lived for 30 years. I have moments of fear about getting all the details done on time for the move. I have moments of anxiety related to new patterns of relationships after we arrive. I feel sad about leaving this beautiful place and the friends we have made. I tend to overeat when stressed, so I feel angry at myself when I eat too much.
God led us to plan this move, and I want to honor God in the process. Yet I have moments when I’m a mess of unruly thoughts and feelings.
I’m going to imagine that I hear the voice of Jesus saying, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” What would that look like in practice? Here are my ideas:
- I must not let the voice of condemnation overwhelm me. In fact, I must turn away from that voice as much as possible. Of course I’m feeling a mix of sadness, fear and anxiety. Of course I feel stressed, which always makes eating well hard for me. RAIN helps me feel those feelings but not wallow in them. RAIN helps me feel them but also let them go.
- I must allow Jesus to help me live in as healthy a manner as possible, as free from sin as possible.