Self-Kindness In Recovery
By Debbie Flanagan of Pure Desire Ministries
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Galatians 5:22-23 NLT
When I took on the task of writing a blog on grace in recovery, I didn’t know where it might lead me. Do I start with explaining how valuable we are to God? Do I talk about the meaning of grace? There has already been so much written on these topics, I thought, Would one more article add anything to this subject?
But then I realized, with all the dissertations written, all the scholarly articles written on the subject of grace, people were still coming into treatment burdened down and oppressed by their shortcomings. Burdened by sin. This is the very thing Jesus proclaimed we would be released from (John 4). This sense of unworthiness I hear is heartbreaking.
In Luke 4:19, our Lord Jesus Christ, quoting from Isaiah, stated that He was anointed by God to proclaim that this is “the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is where I would like to start. We are living under the Lord’s favor or grace right now.
When we agreed with God that Jesus was our sacrifice for sin, we received the Gift of Righteousness. All of our sins have been forgiven once and for all time. We received God’s own spirit. Our spirit is sanctified. Our earthly bodies will fade away. However, it is our mind that conducts our decisions and daily lives. The battle for our mind is the evil one’s last stronghold to convince us that God is not good, God does not take joy in us, peace is not achievable now, His patience is running out, and He will not be faithful to us in the end. These are lies from the author of all lies.
Jesus has proclaimed otherwise.
I enjoy imagining: on the day of creation of man, the Godhead stood together and discussed the path that mankind would take. The created man is fragile, limited to time and space, and given a free will to make decisions that would affect their eternal life. I like to imagine Jesus raising His hand and volunteering to take on the responsibility for us. His favor was on mankind from the beginning. Mankind was precious to God from the beginning before we sinned. We are precious enough for Him to have planned a way for us to be with Him. Why is this important to us now? This is our inherent value. We were worthy at creation and remain worthy to God today.
Man is finite. We are prone to sin. We are sinners not because we sin, but because Adam sinned. We inherited a sin nature from Adam, the first man. But in Jesus we found redemption. This is the favor of the Lord. This is grace.
Grace is an act of kindness toward something. It is a withholding of judgment for a wrong done. Grace is to make allowances for or make concessions. Practically speaking, it can be shown in giving a generous interpretation to what others say to us or how they behave toward us.
But there is a barrier to our ability to extend grace to others. When we are struggling with our own lives, or if we are out of balance with our own identity, it is difficult to extend grace. Nothing nullifies the power of grace more than shame. Shame is the dark cloud that sits over our identity and says, “You are unworthy of love.”
Throughout our lives we develop many strategies to protect our vulnerable identities so we can prove we are worthy. We end up believing that we must do more, be more, love more to be loved by others. These strategies become an armor to protect our fragile esteem that was underdeveloped.
Our battle to extend grace to ourselves and exercise self-kindness is the exercise of identifying our shame and finding an internal resiliency to it. The payout in recovery is a renewed mind.
Many of the clients I work with have a difficult time receiving this grace because of the wounds they have suffered. Their ability to trust has been compromised. The identity of worth and value has been overshadowed by the wounds of trauma.
We talk about what grace looks like and feels like as they move toward healing. We can’t give what we don’t have. We must first start by extending grace to ourselves. I think most of us know this, but find it very difficult to experience. Shame gets in the way.
One of the main issues I see with a prolonged shame identity is the issue of how we combat the exposure of our shame. Where there is shame, I find contempt. Self-contempt is the feeling that you are beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn. Have you ever called yourself “stupid” after making a mistake? This is self-contempt. Contempt is the best way to poke out the eyes of whoever has exposed our shame. We hang onto shame with a tight hug. Letting go of shame requires us to risk vulnerability and allow others to see us for who we really are. What do you see underneath your armor of numbing and perfectionism? Removing this armor requires us to ask for help.
Three Ways To Give Yourself Grace
How do we let go of self-contempt and become gracious to ourselves? Here are three suggestions:
1. Practice mercy.
The best way out of contempt is to practice mercy. When you make a mistake, choose mercy as a response. You are human and will make mistakes. Let go of what others think of you or how they might perceive you.
Shame is how we see ourselves through the eyes of others. If we can see ourselves as God sees us—righteous through His Son Jesus—we might be able to lift our heads and come to Him confident in the knowledge that His favor is upon us.
2. Cultivate value and authenticity.
Cultivate your value and authentic self. Find a “fight song” or word of affirmation to set your mind to. Meditate on the truth of God’s word. He loved you and provided a way for you long before your sin and shame was exposed. Practice gratitude for this.
“We demolish arguments (the “buts” and “what ifs”) and every pretension (those claims that you are not enough) that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV
3. Practice mindfulness.
Be aware of what you are thinking and feeling throughout the day. Being mindful is taking stock of what you are thinking about yourself. Let go of negative self-talk and dwell on how God sees you. What are God’s thoughts toward you? Consider meditating on this question. The Holy Spirit, God’s own spirit that He gave you, will impress on you how He sees you.
In the meantime, take the Apostle Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:8:
…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Think about what is true. What is true about you? What are your values or attributes? When God sees you, He sees righteousness. This is the gift given to you when you accepted Jesus’ sacrifice—when you came to believe in His saving grace.
Recovery is more than stopping addictive processes. I often tell my clients that self-care is mandatory in recovery. Renewing of the mind entails using every tool we have including the self-care needed to change the way we think. Our mind is a minefield filled with “I can’ts” and “I am not enoughs.”
Now is the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus proclaimed it! Let’s disarm the stronghold of lies and defend it with God’s truth.