The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As people of faith, we expect to see these qualities grow in ourselves as we mature. As I consider the patience, kindness, gentleness part of this fruit, I have only ever heard this talked or taught about in terms of how we treat other people. Never about how we deal with or talk to ourselves. I haven’t heard a pastor say, “A hallmark of spiritual maturity is having patience, kindness, and gentleness towards oneself.” Why not, I wonder? It seems that so many of us aspiring to develop these fruits allow ourselves to look to our attitudes and actions towards others and while harshing, berating, and belittling ourselves, as if we can be mature followers of Jesus and despise ourselves at the same time. Can we? Why don’t we think of ourselves as inconsistent if we are kind to others and horrid to ourselves? Are we not all God’s creatures, worthy of patience and kindness?
We let ourselves get away with it without the same kinds of question and scrutiny we would apply to our treatment of others. Are we thinking that harshing ourselves does something more helpful that harshing others? I’ve been thinking about what makes it so hard to turn patience, kindness, and gentleness towards ourselves. I believe it has everything to do with shame. Shame gets into us from all over the place; our families, media, social interactions, and the church. We’ve been made to feel we are deficient, ugly, and unworthy by all manner of life experiences, both intentionally and unintentionally harmful.
I’m going on record saying that our maturity in our faith is evidenced by increasing patience, kindness, and gentleness with oneself. The inner critic grows quieter and a tender voice grows louder. The treatment of others and treatment of self grows more similar. No more excuses. We should consider how we talk to ourselves to be vitally important information about the growing fruit of God’s work in our lives.
Being patient, gentle, and kind towards ourselves does not necessarily imply feeling just fine and dandy about mistakes that we’ve made or difficult, stuck patterns in our lives. But it could very well mean a very different tone to your inner dialogue. It may sounds like, “here I am again, stuck and needing help” rather than “you idiot! What’s your problem?” or “I am so entrenched in this behavior, how can I do this differently?” rather than “how could you do this again, you are just awful!”
How can we get started?
- We notice the tone and tenor of our inner voice. How do we talk to ourselves?
- Under what circumstances are we particularly harsh with ourselves?
- How are we explaining to ourselves that this is ok?
- Explore how/if shame is at the root of it.
- Share with God and a trusted friend what you are discovering.
- Try praying for yourself in the third person and see if you can access a more compassionate voice. “Lord, Janice needs you. She is completely stuck and feeling horrible about herself……etc.”
Bottom line, love, patience, kindness and gentleness are not just gifts we offer others out of a life of growing maturity. They are meant for us to offer ourselves as live out of a life of honoring God’s image in ourselves.
What about this challenges you?