Be Kind to Yourself, Woman. God Says So.

Flannery O'Connor quote "accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better." You have to be kind to yourself, but that doesn't mean you can stop trying to be a better person.
One of my favorite Flannery O’Connor quotes by Pink Salt Riot.

Be kind to everyone, including yourself.

When was the last time you were kind to yourself? Can you recall a recent moment where you gave yourself some grace? Do you remember the last time you acknowledged your value?

When was the last time you criticized yourself? Can you recall a recent moment when you gave yourself a hard time over your flaws and imperfections? Do you remember the last time you laid the blame for every problem at your own feet and despaired at how ill-equipped you were to handle those problems by yourself?

If the latter questions were much easier to answer, please let me assure you, dear reader, that you are not alone. The struggle to be kind to yourself is very real, and it’s a struggle rooted in lies whispered in our ears by the world and the enemy himself.

And I believe that the cure lies with the Truth Himself.

Being Kind to Yourself Doesn’t Come Naturally.

This might come as a shock to absolutely no one, but I am very critical of myself. I have always been that way. My battle to be kind to myself hovers over every aspect of my life, taking shape as spiritual scrupulously or making myself sick over the state of my house. I have plenty of guilt and self-hatred to spare. Maybe it stems from years of abuse. Maybe it’s just my all-or-nothing personality. Who knows. Hours of therapy and prayer (and a rigorous medication regimen) have helped immensely, but the patterns of self-deprecation are not easily broken.

Currently, my biggest sources of self-loathing come in the forms of mom guilt and the belief that I am not worthy. Mom-guilt often leaves me feeling like a horrible mother for not loving motherhood every second of the day and losing my patience with my kids. Not feeling worthy rears its ugly head when I begin to feel like I have things figured out or when I start to think that I might actually be good at something. It’s a vicious cycle.

But why? Why do we allow judgment to live rent-free in our heads, often at the expense of our joy and sanity? Would we speak to anyone else the way we speak to ourselves?

I found the answer to these questions in two unlikely places: Instagram and a children’s book.

Letters to Myself…

One of my favorite Catholic authors, Emily Stimpson Chapman, recently started a campaign on Instagram to promote her new book Letters to Myself from the End of the World*. Each week, she gives her followers a writing prompt, inviting them to include #letterstomyselfthebook in their posts so she can read and share them on her Instagram stories.

The first prompt was simple: write a letter to your younger self. Give yourself advice. Tell them what to do and what to avoid. Encourage them or bemoan their choices. Tell them how your story is going and why they need to keep pressing on. The sky was the limit (well, aside from the character limits that Instagram puts on captions, but you get the idea).

The moment I saw the prompt, my mind flashed back to who I was at 18. I was preparing to start RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). I had never dated anyone. I was living in a sea of uncertainty and clinging desperately to my newfound Catholic faith to stay afloat. I was navigating the waters of college admissions and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was on the cusp of everything changing, and yet I felt like I was forever standing still.

Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to interact with one of my all-time favorite people on the Interwebs, I threw my words into the ring along with a picture of a sassy, 18-year-old me in hand-me-down 80’s mom shorts and a pair of used men’s sneakers on top of a mountain.

The words of that post poured out of my heart so quickly. I had so much to say to that young woman. So much I wish she knew. Like how she could have made things so much easier on herself. Why she should stop beating herself up over every little thing?

Oh, and for the love of all that is good and holy, stop obsessing over what the scale says. You’ll have three kids someday, and you are going to miss that slim waist and defined jawline that you so easily take for granted now—foolish child. But I digress…

It’s easier to be kinder to others…or even your past self.

What struck me most was how easy it was for me to stand outside of myself and praise and speak so kindly to this version of myself that no longer exists. When prompted to speak as if I were a friend or a stranger, my tone softened. My words were kinder, and my view of my mistakes lacked the sense of judgment that usually saturates my inner dialogue.

This got me thinking about how I view others.

I see my mom-friends lose their tempers with their kids and reassure them that they are good mothers. Everyone loses their patience with their children sometimes. However, when I lose my temper with my kids, I fall into a pit of despair over how unworthy I am to be their mother.

My oldest son’s godmother sent him a copy of the Tiny Saint’s Book, Love God, Love Me, Love You, and we’ve been reading it as a bedtime story. It’s a cute, short little story about St. Martin de Porres and how he put the words from Matthew Chapter 12:30-31 into practice by loving God, loving himself as he is, and loving his neighbor.

When a friend shares something they have been struggling with, I admire their strength and ability to be vulnerable. If I share something difficult, I feel like I am burdening my loved ones with my silly problems.

If a loved one is struggling with their faith, I remind them that God loves them infinitely. When I struggle with my faith, I feel that I am too sinful for God to love. I resign myself to believing that He does not care about my struggles.

As I contemplated and compared my interactions with myself and others, I noticed a striking pattern: I could be kind to literally everyone except myself. I could even be kind in a hypothetical letter to my teenaged self, but present-day JuliaMarie? Nope. No kindness for you, lady!

This is where the children’s book comes in.

What Does it Mean to Love as He Loves?

Reader, it wasn’t until I read that simple children’s book that I realized that God does indeed tell us to love ourselves. I have read that Gospel passage so many times over the years, but that key point never stuck until recently. I took the verse to mean that we have to love others as God loves humanity. It never occurred to me that loving myself or showing myself kindness was part of the Greatest Commandment.

That’s when that voice in my head starts asking questions. Why should I love myself? What good does it do to be kind to myself when I struggle to smile at the people I see every day? How can I think about giving myself grace when I lose my patience with my husband or children or that cranky client who has asked about their refund status just one too many times?

It was a jarring revelation to realize how I often doubt my Creator’s love for me. I believed that He loves everyone else immensely. I believe that He will always forgive them because He loves them so dearly. And yet, I constantly forget that He hung on that cross for my sins as much as everyone else’s. I forget that I serve a God Who looks at me with the eyes of a loving Father. He does not look at me with the cold, heartless judgment that I use for myself. Praise God for that.

I know I need to be kind to myself…but how do I do that?

In a perfect example of the “Both/And” nature of our Catholic faith, Flannery O’Connor once said that “accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.” I have a print of that quote hanging on my inspiration board above my desk. I’m using that quote as a reminder that now that I have realized and accepted that I am terrible at being kind to myself, I have to work on ripping out self-deprecation by the roots. I have to learn to love myself as God made me. I have to recognize the things that keep me from growing in holiness without condemning myself for being a flawed human being.

It may feel antithetical to say “be kind to yourself!” and “Always try to improve!” in the same sentence, but it’s true. God gave me the grace to see that I ignore His command to love myself, but He also doesn’t want me to sit stagnantly in that knowledge. To quote Flannery again, “grace changes us, and the change is painful.” I have to do the work to grow in the love of God and my neighbor by loving myself as He loves me.

Some of the ways I plan to make these changes are accepting compliments more easily, giving God credit for my blessings and talents, using those talents to glorify Him, and spreading the Good News, and remembering that while humility is a virtue, false modesty is a sin rooted in pride. These are just a few, rather broad examples, but they’re starting points. I can always adjust. Even allowing myself to remember that I don’t have to have every detail figured out is an improvement for this old girl.

Now, I’m challenging you to be kind to yourself.

Dear reader, I want to challenge you to change the way you think about yourself. I want you to really be intentional about how you speak about yourself to others. It will take practice, but be kind to yourself as much as possible. Remember that God literally asks you to love your neighbor as yourself. How can you treat anyone else with love and respect if you do not treat yourself that way first? You do not have to be arrogant or blind to your faults. However, you must avoid the temptation to think of yourself as unworthy of love and kindness.

As I said at the beginning of this post, breaking the vicious cycle of self-deprecation is difficult, but it’s not impossible. Pray over it, and renounce the lie that you do not deserve to be kind to yourself. Brainstorm ways that you can counter the lies of self-doubt with truth and love.

I highly recommend praying the Litany of Trust written by the Sisters of Life. It’s a beautiful invitation to trust in the love of God and recall that He made you in love and for love. He asks that you return that love by loving Him, yourself, and your neighbor. Connect the lines of the litany with Sacred Scripture. Dwell on what is good and beautiful in yourself and others. Reject the lies that feed off of your unbelief in your own goodness.

The Choice is Yours.

So go, be kind to yourself. Speak sweetly, and do not hide your light under a bush. Recognize the flaws, accept them, and pursue virtue out of a deep desire to be who your Creator made you to be. God gave you life so that you may grow to know, love, and serve Him. He made you with a higher purpose than anything the world could ever offer you.

You need only the courage to rise to the task at hand.

To Him through Her,

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