by Elise Erikson Barrett
As we grow from infants to adults, all of us internalize messages. Some of these messages are life-giving or useful. Some of them are deeply damaging. Most of them are invisible to us. They become part of the internal structure that shapes our external personality.
Think about the way you talk to yourself. Do any of these lines sound familiar?
You’ve just got to try harder.
So-and-so would have done this better.
God expects so much more from you.
When we turn our attention to loving ourselves, many of us bump up against barriers. We think, “I don’t need to love myself— I need to push myself.” Some of us—perhaps especially those of us who might be drawn naturally to spiritual reading!—are predisposed to self-criticism. Trying to love self leads quickly into taking an inventory of all the ways we could be more lovable, if we weren’t so sinful, and if we only tried harder.
One way to practice compassionate self-love is to encounter yourself not as the adult you experience yourself as now, but as the child you once (and always) were.
Take some time to find a photo of yourself as a child, perhaps from kindergarten or early grade school. Now look into the eyes of that child. Spend several minutes just looking at his or her hair, eyes, cheeks, mouth. What is she feeling? What is he thinking? What are his hopes, her fears?
Move into a time of intentionally opening yourself to seeing that child with the eyes of God. Ask the Holy Spirit to be deeply present with you. Ask yourself these questions:
What does God especially love about this child?
From what does God desire to protect this child?
What in this child’s life breaks God’s heart?
Sit in this space for some time. Afterward, you may want to journal or talk to a friend about what this experience was like.
Part of loving ourselves well is partnering with God to continue to parent ourselves well. Loving parenting includes discipline, or teaching, as well as nurture. It combines a commitment to foster growth in wholeness and maturity with a deep unconditional love.
Choose another time to sit with your photo of yourself as a child. Begin with silent prayer, asking God to help you see through the divine eyes. Reflect on these questions:
What do I wish I could give this child?
What does this child need from her/his parents that they are incapable of giving her or him?
What do I want this child to know?
Reflect on the needs you identified. How might you and God together parent the places inside you that need tender guidance in growth and unconditional love?
Elise Erikson Barrett is a clergywoman in UMC, a preacher, and worship leader. She is the author of the book, What Was Lost: A Christian Journey through Miscarriage. She is a native of Indiana who lives in South Carolina with her spouse and three children.
Credit: "Loving Our Child-Selves" by Elise Erikson Barrett. Copyright © 2015 Alive Now. From January/February 2015 Alive Now. Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room.