Do you ever replay a conversation back again to yourself after having it, and think, “good grief, was I a fool, or what?!” I did that this week and spent some time being hard on myself, before talking to my pastor friend, Doug, about it. Sheepishly I explained how I got into this conversation, got worked up, and just talked and talked. I told him about how I felt; like a man on a wild mule riding through the conversation. I could just imagine myself, without direction, kicking up a dust storm. I didn’t say anything mean, I justified, but I was just careless, flippant, and unlike myself. After, I felt the regret and shame. “Good grief. Get it together man!”
Doug looked at me and smiled kindly. “You’re hard on yourself, and it seems to me that you’re also frustrated that you would be so hard on yourself.” Too true. The layers of ways that we can be hard on ourselves when we catch ourselves acting foolish has no limit. We’re our worst critics. Doug kindly reminded me of the compassion that God has for us when we put our foot in our mouth, or ride through an experience like a wild person barely holding on. We may feel shame, but shame is a teacher. Instead of pushing shame away, invite it in for tea, and let God show you how much better his love and compassion is. Let the compassion of God gently remind you of love, he explained.
Wise and compassionate words for a person licking wounds of their own making.
It’s hard to take our moments of foolishness, whatever they may be, and turn them into a chance to be reminded that we are recipients of love, compassion and grace. Being gentle with our experiences and failures is not easy, but thinking gently about ourselves is a way to find hope. No one really changes under the weight of self-criticism as much as at the hand of grace. Great art, great love, and great beauty was never made in the pressure cooker of coercion and shame. Only gentleness and grace can make a way.
To a moment of struggle, gentleness may be the strongest act of love. It takes a lot of strength to resist the urge to belittle or destroy. Saint Francis de Sales wrote that “nothing is so strong as gentleness. Nothing is so gentle as real strength.” But even when we are weak and feel a failure, we can be compassionate towards ourselves.
I am grateful that there is patience even for me as I bounce through life on my wild mule. When I come to a stop I’m surrounded by friends who know me and love me, in spite of myself. As I receive compassion I can become a person of compassion. When we meet people who come whipping through our lives on their own wild ride of humanity, making noise and and a mess, we have the gift of our own stories: we’ve been there before, too.
This week, may you have compassion on yourself, and gentle grace while you ride (or bounce) through this one and beautiful life. May you also discover that grace and gentleness is a gift you can give to others.