By Dr. Audrey Davidheiser, Crosswalk.com
Are Christians Allowed to Be Kind to Themselves?
I've known believers who'd scowl at the idea. Their reasoning: the Son of God self-sacrificed for the sake of others and imparted verses like "greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13).
Their theology leaves no room for aiming kindness at themselves. While their argument may be understandable, the Lord also instructs us to "be kind and compassionate to one another" (Ephesians 4:32). To be kind to everyone but yourself is inconsistent. Besides, being kind to others shows we have the ability to act kindly. To be precise, this gift originated from God, who has an "infinite riches of grace and kindness" (Ephesians 2:7, TPT). Since He lives in us (Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 3:17), whenever we minister kindness to others, we do so by drawing from God's bottomless pool of kindness inside our hearts. Why can't we utilize this same refreshing pool ourselves?
In addition, being kind to ourselves primes us to be kind to others. A discipline of responding to ourselves with compassion will train us to treat others similarly. Here, then, are ten surprising ways to treat yourself with kindness.
1. Laugh at Your Problems
Perhaps your job cranks out one stressful day after another. Does reconciling family finances against the rising inflation double your pulse? Then imitate God and laugh:
"The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, "Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us." He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision" (Psalm 2:2-4, NKJV).
Laughing is a healthy respite. So, go ahead and permit yourself to have a hearty laugh. Watch dog reels, cat reels if you must, or scroll through funny skits on social media. Giggle at all your problems. Among other perks, laughing will lower your stress hormone.
2. Ban Pseudo Peace
At the conclusion of her therapy, one of my former clients admitted that she used to cite Proverbs 19:11 as a pretext to avoid conflict: "Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense" (ESV). However, therapy helped her realize that ignoring the hurt caused by the offense only bought her temporary peace.
You can work toward permanent peace by resolving conflict instead of attempting to escape it.
3. Commit to Churchgoing
Gallup polled America in 2020—the year the Coronavirus pandemic pummeled the world—and found that those who attended weekly religious services rated their mental health as better than the year before. This, despite the crazy lockdown and acute fear of this novel virus.
Do yourself a favor and find a church you can belong to. Then, attend, attend, attend.
4. Befriend Boundaries
"No" may be a tiny word, but it can terrify grown adults to utter it. Perhaps that's why some of us keep overextending ourselves and chair another committee, cook another casserole, and babysit the neighbor's rambunctious boys when we're already tapped out before that halfhearted yes slipped out.
Establishing personal boundaries benefits you by allocating precious resources carefully. But if the thought of setting boundaries paralyzes you, stock up on the popular boundaries book by Christian psychologists. Reading the articles below might also help.
5. Schedule Sleep
You're so busy. There's never enough time to complete your to-do list. Dirty laundry refuses to march itself to the washer or auto-clean.
I get it but don't make your body pay for your busy day. Children aren't the only humans who desperately need enough sleep—adults do too. Getting a full night of rest on a regular basis unlocks many rewards, from weight loss to clear thinking to better memory consolidation to having a healthier heart.
6. Thank Your Body
This might sound weird but bear with me. I've instructed my clients to send gratitude to their bodies—straight from their hearts—and the results are astounding. After just a few moments of appreciating his lungs for the hard work they've done, a lifelong asthma patient felt his breathing clear up. Another client felt her migraine remit.
Maybe your body has lost its shape (or gained a few significant pounds) compared to the days of your youth. Or maybe childbirth has left its indelible marks on your skin. Still, your body has faithfully carried you around all this time. Doesn't it deserve your sincere thanks?
7. Forgive Yourself
Did you know science has built a body of research on forgiveness? They discovered that forgiveness translates into better physical health and greater relationship satisfaction.
But when the person you most need to forgive is you, forgiveness may be tricky.
- If your waistline has expanded, try forgiving yourself for foraging, not exercising enough, overeating, or all of the above.
- If you're holding yourself accountable for something wrong you've done, ask: what am I afraid might happen if I forgave myself for this?
- And if you've held a grudge against God for any reason, ask yourself what needs to happen before you can fully forgive the Almighty.
Both you and God deserve a chance to be forgiven. Commit today to keep working at it until you can truly forgive.
8. Think Thank You Cards
"That note warmed my heart. Thank you so much, made my day."
Our neighbor texted the above upon receiving our thank you card. My neighbor's response isn't unique. Over the years, I've scribbled heartfelt sentiments in plenty of greeting cards, and in return, one friend emailed me her lengthy appreciation. Another teared up. Yet another placed my card prominently on her desk—which made me feel very honored.
I shared these things not to spotlight my awesomeness but to echo the research on sending handwritten notes. As it turns out, pouring out our gratitude on paper promotes positive emotions not only for the recipient but also for the letter-writer.
9. Resolve Internal Polarizations
Has your mind tossed an argument to and fro, perhaps like the following?
I want to take the kids road-tripping this summer.
Have you seen the price of gas? The cost will be outrageous!
Childhood is priceless. It's supposed to be carefree. If I can bring them some joy, why not?
Their future college education is why not. You don't own a vault of gold, do you?
Don't dismiss this chatter as meaningless or insignificant. Unless you resolve internal tugs-of-war, they're bound to zap your peace—including while you're asleep. Prayer is a good place to start. Instead of deciding what to do on your own, ask the Lord to order your steps, no matter what your inner battles are about (Psalm 37:23). You can also learn Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, which provides you with the protocol on how to resolve polarizations.
The next step offers you an easy onramp for this purpose.
10. Attend a Mental Health Summit
Thrive & Cultivate '22 is set to take place on May 11-12, 2022. This event is free and focuses on how the Church can lead the way in serving the mental health needs of God's people. When you register, you'll hear from professionals, experts, and fellow Christians. My session will introduce you to IFS. Watch for an invitation to peek into your own internal system. I've found that before I could successfully resolve the wars inside my head, I needed to explore my internal world first. I suspect the same might be true of you.
May you discover more ways to be kind to yourself as you absorb this online summit.
Audrey Davidheiser, PhD is a California licensed psychologist, certified Internal Family Systems therapist, and author of Surviving Difficult People: When Your Faith and Feelings Clash. She founded and directed a counseling center for the Los Angeles Dream Center, supervised graduate students, and has treated close to 2,200 clients. Dr. Audrey devotes her California practice to survivors of psychological trauma. Visit her on www.aimforbreakthrough.com and Instagram @DrAudreyD.