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Center for Action and Contemplation

Sacred Self-Compassion 

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

For psychologist and theologian Chanequa Walker-Barnes, offering ourselves self-compassion is connected to our ability to love others:  

There can be no self-care without self-compassion, which is compassion turned inward. It is the ability to connect to our feelings, to respond to our suffering with kindness, and to desire that our suffering be ameliorated. Self-compassion prompts us to treat ourselves in ways that alleviate, rather than cause or amplify, our pain and suffering. While many Christians understand compassion, mercy, and kindness to be essential in our interactions with others, we don’t always see these as core values for our relationship with ourselves. We neglect our self-care, directly and indirectly contributing to our pain and suffering. We judge ourselves for our own suffering, listening to the voice of our inner critic as it rehearses our shortcomings, our errors, and our deficiencies. As James teaches us, it doesn’t have to be this way (James 3:10).  

Implicit in Jesus’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves is the assumption that we are supposed to love ourselves. We are supposed to be kind and gentle, caring and nurturing, empowering and forgiving of ourselves. If we are unable to do this, ultimately we may be unable to do it for our neighbors. And if we cannot love our neighbors, whom we can see, we cannot love God, whom we cannot see (1 John 4:20). Self-compassion, then, is not indulgence; it is a necessity for true discipleship. [1]  

CAC friend and Love Period podcast host Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis emphasizes the importance of loving the particularities of ourselves:  

By self-love I mean a healthy delight in your true, imperfect, uniquely wonderful, particular self. I mean an unconditional appreciation for who you are, head to toe, inside and out: quirks, foibles, beauty, and blemishes—all of it. I mean seeing yourself truthfully and loving what you see.  

Honestly, the stories playing out in the world can make it difficult to love yourself, and therefore your neighbor. Messages from the culture that you don’t matter, not just because of your race, but because of your gender, sexuality, economic status, or religion, can thwart self-love. Though her skin gives her some privilege, a white child might grow up in a context of poverty or domestic violence that can cripple her self-love. A child traveling across deserts and rivers to emigrate with his parents might lose some of his self-love in the wilderness. Even if you’re born into circumstances that others consider ideal, messages in the culture can signal that you’re not good enough, light enough, thin enough, smart enough, feminine or masculine enough to measure up to some ideal. The space between those ideals and your realities can make it difficult to embrace your particularities and love them. Learning to love your particularities is not just an individual project; you need your communities—your posse—to see those pieces of you, to accept them, and to love all the parts of you, fiercely. [2]  


[1] Chanequa Walker-Barnes, Sacred Self-Care: Daily Practices for Nurturing Our Whole Selves (New York: HarperOne, 2023), 84. 

[2] Jacqui Lewis, Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World (New York: Harmony Books, 2021), 33–34. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Taylor Wilson, Transfiguration (detail), cyanotype, used with permission. Taylor Wilson, Madonna and Messiah, ink, used with permission. Alma Thomas, The Eclipse, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian. Click here to enlarge image

The rounded lines of mother and child echo the compassion we express toward others. 

Story from Our Community:  

At 8 I knew I was gay, but like many in my generation, I hid my True Self for 37 years. I came out I at 45, and unfortunately, was alienated from my family. In that period of life, I found the work of Richard Rohr. I have read several books and talked with a Franciscan spiritual director, and I try to read the Daily Meditations each morning. I love feeling included.… Thankfully, my church community and family of choice does offer the compassion I need at this stage of my life. As I grow spiritually, I find myself expanding my compassion for myself and others as part of my journey as a member of the LGBTQ community. I am grateful to keep growing. —Paul W. 

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