Being Merciful to Yourself
An excerpt from Guide Them Safely Home, Lord: A Caregiver’s Companion
Mercy triumphs over judgment.
– James 2:13
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I recently read an article by Marian Friedrichs in which she shared the following experience:
One Saturday, when I confessed yet again to judging other people harshly, the priest told me, “I want you to work on loving and accepting yourself. If you can’t have compassion for yourself, you can’t have compassion for anyone else.” He was right. If I constantly criticize myself, it’s tempting to look smugly at other people to make myself feel better. On the other hand, if I accept myself as I am, I don’t need to try to feel superior to others, so I can see them with loving eyes. Self-acceptance also helps me avoid the habit of critical thinking that inevitably clouds the way I see everyone, not just myself.
Some of us are, by nature, hard on ourselves. We may be perfectionists. We find it hard to accept the fact that we will make mistakes or fail to accomplish every single goal we set out to achieve. Others are mistake-prone and find themselves feeling a constant sense of guilt and shame that they aren’t more quick-thinking, coordinated, or capable. And of course, at time we have all willfully lived with selfishness and disregard for God and other people.
There is not one of us who has lived perfectly. We humans are limited, imperfect, and subject to all kinds of influences and powers stronger that we are. Each of us sins. We all miss the mark. Every person must look in the mirror and figure out how to deal with failure, disappointment, and regret. The Book of Common Prayer encourages us to ask forgiveness, recognizing that “we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done….”
A person who faces the challenging job of caregiving each day will have an abundance of opportunities to fall short. There is no perfect caregiving. It is messy, perplexing work that can be maddening at times. You will get tired, angry, sad, or forgetful. You won’t always to things on time, in the right order, or with perfect skill. You may disappoint yourself and others.
Do your best, and leave room for mercy. You can be both hard and gentle on yourself. It is no sin to have high standards, but please accept that you are human, not superhuman. To some degree, you will fail. But you are not a failure. Receive and extend God’s mercy to yourself, even as you seek to be merciful and caring toward others.