I just recently learned how to play the game of chess. A good friend of mine got into it and his enthusiasm for the game was contagious. I had always steered clear of the game because it overwhelmed me with all of the options. But as he explained the basics to me, I got more interested. Finally, we started playing some games. And guess what? I made a ton of mistakes. He even put me in checkmate in four moves once. That was especially embarrassing! However, as long as I was gentle with myself for making these mistakes, I enjoyed the process of learning.
In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul says "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." I am going to focus on the benefits of practicing gentleness and self-control as a form of self-compassion. The other fruit of the Spirit are wonderful too, but often these two values can be overlooked. The reason they go together in my mind is that it takes self-control to be gentle with ourselves. We need to recognize when we are tempted to be harsh with ourselves and then ease up. That's what I was learning to do when I was learning the game of chess.
Gentleness is needed now more than ever. We live in a culture that seems to have forgotten that gentleness is even a virtue. And I believe that the practice of gentleness is at the core of self-compassion. When my limitations cause me to fall short of my ideals, I can be gentle with myself. I don't have to beat myself up. I have found that when I am harsh with myself, I tend to also be harsh with others. And when I am gentle with myself, I am far more likely to be gentle with others. Self-compassion is the first step to feeling compassion for others.
This requires self-control. It takes self-control to pay attention to when I may be tempted to be harsh with myself. Then I can choose to be gentle instead. Remember, we are talking about the fruit of the Spirit. So these virtues result from staying connected to the Holy Spirit. We need the power of the Spirit to help us be gentle with ourselves and to help us practice self-control. I have found that when my self-control is weak, I tend to be less gentle with myself. So I see these two virtues working together.
Also, what is self-compassion? It is doing what is good for you. What is good for you, is not always what you feel like doing. When I'm angry, I don't always feel like being gentle with myself. I feel like being harsh. It takes self-control to act in a way that is truly good for me. It also takes self-control to make sure that we give ourselves the basics needed to function at our best in the world: time with God, good food, exercise, and adequate rest. Remember, you're going to fall short in some way each day. That's all right. Be gentle with yourself and move forward. That's all that is needed.
The point of self-compassion is that it always leads to compassion for others. It also makes our lives better too! It is a win-win. And I believe that if we stay connected to the Holy Spirit, we can practice gentleness and self-control with ourselves and others. So I invite you to do just that this week and see if it makes a difference in your life.
May the Spirit of God of grant you gentleness and self-control as you practice compassion for yourself and others this week.