Becoming a Compassionate Neighbor to Myself

by Beth A Richardson on September 26, 2011 · 87 comments

Soothing Aching Feet

by Trevor Hudson
from A Mile in My Shoes

Christ-followers who take seriously the gospel’s challenge to compassion often neglect to care for themselves. Whatever the reasons for this neglect (ranging from fear of doing anything that looks selfish, always wanting to please others, and needing to be needed to a sincere desire to put others first) inadequately caring for ourselves sets us up as prime candidates for compassion fatigue. We can care overmuch. Accepting the fact that we can care for others only when we care for ourselves guards us against the dangers of overcaring. . . .

When we do not show compassion toward ourselves, our compassion for others becomes poisoned with harmful toxins. However, once we learn to love ourselves as God does, we become freer to pour out our lives in sacrificial self-giving and to do so without resentment and heaviness of spirit. Having a proper love for ourselves, we can then forget ourselves, reach out to others, and respond to their needs. Self-love and other-love are bound together. Perhaps for this reason Jesus reaffirmed the centuries-old levitical command given to the Hebrew people as binding upon his followers: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). How do we become compassionate neighbors to ourselves? Here is a menu of possibilities worth exploring:

Take care of your body.

In caring for others we use up a great deal of physical and mental energy. If we do not replenish these limited resources, we run the risk of compassion fatigue. We cannot fulfill our God-given callings to be compassionate human beings in bodies that are constantly neglected and overextended. How we feed, exercise, relax, listen to, and nourish our bodies are matters relevant to faithful discipleship. As Francis of Assisi lay dying, someone asked if he would have changed anything in his ministry. Significantly he responded, “I would have been more kind to my body.” . . .

Do what you enjoy.

Most people have a favorite spare-time activity. Whether it be working in the garden, walking in the countryside, playing sport, listening to music, reading for fun, developing a personal hobby, going to the movies, or simply enjoying a leisurely bath, these activities possess wonderful resourcing potential. When we omit activities like these from our lives—as those who care are prone to do—we end up living resentful, joyless, and frazzled lives.

On the other hand, taking time to enjoy them renews energy levels, recharges inner batteries, and fills our empty tanks. If we want to give ourselves in compassionate caring, few aspects are more important than finding out what we enjoy doing—and doing it. . . .

Process your own pain.

Each of us sits next to a pool of tears. [It was in a conversation with Gordon Cosby that I first heard the phrase “pool of tears.”] Some pools are deeper than others, but each of us has a pool of his or her own. These pools represent our grief about the experiences that have crushed our spirits, scarred our souls, and crippled our relationships. Trying to bring consolation and comfort to others in their pain without giving attention to these painful memories renders us vulnerable to compassion fatigue. However, finding a human wailing wall where we turn our pain into speech renews our capacities to live and love more deeply. Besides experiencing the loving presence of God in the care and counsel of those who listen to us, we also find out that processing our own pain helps us reach into the hearts of others who are in pain.

Permit me a brief word of testimony in this regard. Over the years numerous people have affirmed in my life the gift of listening. I spend large chunks of my daily time offering a listening presence to people in pain. The flipside of this listening gift was, however, that I seldom spoke about my own pain. Bottled-up feelings and emotions raged in my heart, longing for release. Some years ago I decided to find a safe place where I could share my heart. In the presence of a patient and skilled listener I found the courage to express my inner anguish—a liberating, healing, and humbling experience. This journey toward my own healing has not ended, but I know that without it I would be in no position to care for others.


Rev. Trevor Hudson is a good friend of the Upper Room and the best-selling author of Questions God Asks Us, A Mile in My Shoes and The Way of Transforming Discipleship (Companions in Christ). Trevor is married to Debbie and serves the congregation of Northfield Methodist Church in Benoni, just outside Johannesburg, South Africa.

Photo Credit: iStockphoto / Thinkstock

Rev. Louise April 17, 2012 at 6:44 am

I will be ordering this book. Thank you for highlighting it so that I could get a sample of its “on the mark…to the heart…into the soul” I think anyone can benefit by this, and for the many clergy/chaplains I know, it is balm for the soul.
Peace, Louise

Beth Richardson April 17, 2012 at 10:22 am

Thanks, Louise. Glad we could share this with you.

Blessings and peace,
Beth

Camille April 20, 2012 at 6:12 am

either the reverend knows me or has read my journal because this writing speak directly to me!
Thank you for sharing and thank you for the gentle reminder.

Rev. Louise April 20, 2012 at 7:16 am

Camille,
Prayers/energy to you as you journey along the path of attempting to live “wellness”…a balance of mind/body/spirit. I have added “Camille” to my prayer journal.
Peace, Louise

Katherine O. Cooper April 21, 2012 at 11:28 am

I really enjoyed this reflection piece. I included it in two of my blog posts this week and am sharing it on FB and Twitter. Thanks again!

http://attendanceplease.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/trevor-hudson-on-compassion-fatigue/

http://attendanceplease.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/forgiveness-friday-compassionate-prayer/

Beth Richardson April 24, 2012 at 9:55 am

Katherine,

Thanks so much for writing and sharing your thoughts. Many blessings,
Beth

Barbara April 22, 2012 at 2:42 pm

A week ago tonight I experienced an explosive flu that I now call purgi-tory, after days of doing and doing, particularly my beloved music. I knew I was tired, but I put that awareness aside until I was literally laid flat.
Today, reading Trevor Hudson’s testimony and the comments of others, I recall Carol Gilligan’s 1982 book “In a Different Voice” and its similar ‘aha’ impact on me. Beyond the false dichotomy of selfish and selfless, she presented and affirmed the idea and the value of self care.
Thirty years later, compassionate women and men, including our own offspring, are struggling to find that same middle way.
Thank you – for nourishing my spirit and body and reminding me to pass it on.

Rev. Louise April 22, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Yes, isn’t it interesting that we still can benefit by learning self-care …even 30 years after Gilligan’s book was published. Hoping you feel better. Maybe our society is spinning out of control?? It has taken me MANY years and many “purges…” of various forms to begin to learn BEFORE I get sick to “step back….” and it does work a lot of the time…when I listen to that still, small voice of my body….Peace to you this day…

Molly August 4, 2012 at 3:11 am

Maybe it is something we each have to learn for ourselves, and for so many of us, that means ‘the hard way’. I praise God that he is so patient with us.
This is such a good passage. Thank you for bringing to our attention.

Ken Linscott April 17, 2013 at 3:51 am

Thank you again Alive Now for the right words for me at this time on my continuing journey.
Many year’s ago as a young man, I learned the meaning of taking responsibility for seen dangers that may affect others.
That, with having been brought up within a family of strong protestant work ethic, has influenced how I worked at my faith journey to points of personal stress on occasions.
Trevor’s words, that you have shared here, have prompted me to continue a path of balanced self care that I started on all too late in life.
Biking out into the clear fresh air of South Canterbury NZ is just great and I must get using the fishing license I brought this year!

Beth Richardson April 17, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Thank you, Ken, for sharing. Many blessings,
Beth

Jon Humphries April 20, 2013 at 4:06 pm

The idea of caring for ourselves is very important and is enshrined in Jesus’ exhortation to love others as we love ourselves. This outlines very useful and practical ways to do this.

I find the idea of compassion for ourselves intriguing, though. I always thought of compassion as only being other-focused as it literally means ‘ to feel with’ thus my initial reaction was to agree with the thrust of what you were saying, but struggled with the use of compassion. However, I can see that whilst we can never not feel what we feel, we do need to be aware of our feelings and allow them to be an indication of when we need to seek care for ourselves.

Beth Richardson April 22, 2013 at 10:34 am

Thank you, Jon. Very good reflection on this whole matter. I really appreciate your words.

Blessings,
Beth

Hotma D.L.Tobint April 23, 2013 at 10:24 pm

Dear Beth Richardson,
Many thanks for reminding and nourishing my mind through your thought.
God bless us

Hotma- Jakarta, Indonesia

Judy Williams January 25, 2014 at 5:06 pm

This makes my soul sing with joy. Yes, plant flowers, walk by the stream, spend rich time meditating. You are loved. You are valuable. You are treasured. Go now and walk in love and freedom toward yourself. As the Spiritual Director of a small Christian School, I am fed and enriched by Alive Now. Blessings, Judy j

mary maloney February 4, 2014 at 5:50 am

Greetings All, this is s0 very pertinent to so many of us, Compassion for others comes more easily to some of us but we can LEARN and yes for many of us it will be the “hard” way. The song “I AM LOVED, I CAN RISK LOVING YOU, THE ONE WHO KNOWS ME BEST, LOVES ME MOST! I AM LOVED!” keeps feeding my spirit and I CAN listen again. God be praised and blow in lots more Blessings with the snow! L&Ps,MLM

janice coffing February 5, 2014 at 1:31 pm

I would like permission to make a few copies for our chaplain residents and for the ethics committee getting ready to take a retreat on “compassion” and the need for self-care.
Blessings,
Chaplain Janice Coffing

Beth Richardson February 5, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Hi, Janice,

We would be happy to grant permission for this use. Just be sure that the copyright notice is included as a part of what you share.

From A Mile in My Shoes by Trevor Hudson. Copyright (c) Trevor Hudson. Used with permission of The Upper Room.

Chaplain Janice Coffing February 6, 2014 at 9:01 am

Thank you. This will enrich the discussion of self-care and how taking care of ourselves is essential to taking care and finding compassion for others. We are not taught that in order to love our neighbors as ourselves that we must, indeed, develop a h ealthy love for ourselves. Blessings for all that you do to support finding a peaceful, mindful place where we can pause and reflect in this too busy world. Healthcare and ministry are just a touch of the iceberg — but you help me so much. Janice

Lisa Cole April 9, 2014 at 11:48 am

Rev. Hudson and Debbie,

I was touched by this material, and wondered if I could occasionally read from and refer to it in the podcast we are developing as an outreach ministry for our United Methodist Church?

thx much,

Lisa Cole
Director of Music and the Arts
Mt. Vernon Place United Methodist Church,
Washington, DC

Beth Richardson April 12, 2014 at 9:37 am

Hi, Lisa,

Trevor said that he would be happy for you to use this. Thank you for asking.

Blessings,
Beth Richardson

Joan February 2, 2015 at 8:51 am

What a great reading to start today – my birthday and a new year. Thank you!

Mmuir July 25, 2015 at 7:46 am

Your post was so timely and right on target for what I am going through right now. Some of the words are calling me to do a lectio divina exercise to connect with my inner wisdom and Gods direction. I am going through a major life transition and long term situational stress after losing several family members I loved and cared for . and I know I need to fill my empty tank right now ..A listening presence is so important and finding the right person is critical.God bless

Mary L. Maloney July 28, 2015 at 3:36 pm

AMEN, Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger There are many of us out there. Blessings always!!

Janice West April 28, 2017 at 10:28 am

Thank you for reassuring me that time spent doing things we love to do is loving ourselves, just as Jesus commanded us to do. For it is then that we can share our work with others, that they might enjoy it, too.

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