Watching is hard, and yet when it comes to surviving and thriving in long-term Watching, I think we often fall into 3 misconceptions.
3 misconceptions about Watching
1: Only people who are even-keeled, happy –go-lucky pragmatists can survive and thrive Watching over the long-term Watching. I’m not suited for this.
2: Watching is hard, and so I’m inevitably going to become cynical/bitter/depressed. It’s just a natural human response.
3: When it gets hard, the Christian thing to do is ‘deal’ with it quickly, and move on. It’s not good to dwell on the difficulty.
Now there’s a certain modicum of truth in all of these. Some personalities might be ‘naturally’ better suited to watching; it’s understandable if you find yourself growing cynical or depressed; and it’s not particularly helpful to ruminate on your troubles.
Are you good at practising self-compassion? I have to admit, I never really felt like it was something I needed to bother with. I mean… I didn’t feel I was particularly hard on myself, and besides, being compassionate towards other people is more important, right?
Welcome to a new series for a new year! I’ve titled this series ‘Watching for the Long-Haul’. It’s going to include articles on how to care for ourselves as Watchers so we can continue to Watch, and continue to thrive.
Self-Compassion as Watchers
I think most of us as Watchers would agree that having compassion – sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes – of our Loved Ones is crucial. But what about compassion for ourselves? Is it necessary?
Are you good at self-compassion?
You can take the Self-Compassion Quiz(it’s quite helpful!) but here are a few things I identified as possibly problematic for Watchers. Do you:
have an inner voice which tells you, you should be better. Better Watchers. Braver, more articulate, more patient… the list goes on.
often feel very alone in your suffering/situation – cut off from the rest of humanity?
motivate yourself by phrases such as, ‘don’t be weak’ or ‘I need to be strong’ or ‘I’m such a cry-baby’? Or even, ‘so-and-so wouldn’t be upset about this, so it’s silly that I am’?
suspect other people are happier than you?
get frustrated by parts of yourself? Such as the time it takes you to do something, your lack of skills in a certain area, your emotions?
If your answers to these questions are: yes, often, or frequently, you probably struggle with self-compassion. But is this a problem?
Why do you need self-compassion?
After doing some investigating, both in my own life and in the literature, here’s a few things I found to be true:
1. Self-compassion is Biblical
I recently read Try Softer by Aundi Kolber, and was struck by her image of Jesus. Sometimes it’s easy to be so familiar with the Gospels that we miss the very character of Jesus. He was kind and compassionate to sinners – and he is like that to us now. Yes, he teaches us, and sometimes the lessons are through hardships and suffering, but he is a never-ending source of comfort in that suffering.
Or take the Old Testament story of Jonah, and God’s compassion on the warring, brutal Assyrians. From a human perspective it was unreasonable and ridiculous for God to give these people a second chance, after the atrocities they had committed (and would go onto commit) – but God practised radical compassion, and did not destroy their city.
This God is the God Christians are in an intimate relationship with. So often, we feel we need to be harsh with ourselves – far harsher than God is to us. Yet when we do this, we mock his love. We’re effectively saying: God, I know you are kind, but kindness is not what I need. You are giving me the wrong thing, so I have to step in and be impatient and cruel to myself, because otherwise I won’t be enough, and my identity will fall apart.
Ah friends. We can embrace self-compassion, because in doing so we are allowing our identity to rest safely in the hands of our compassionate God.
2. Self-Compassion is good for you
Surprisingly enough, being critical of ourselves, or ignoring our suffering, is not actually good for us! If you repress your emotions or your pain long enough, it will explode in anxiety, depression, anger or other unhelpful ways. Lack of self-compassion means less resilience, and frankly, just makes us unhappy, and life tougher than it needs to be.
Part of being a good steward of the body and mind God gave you is practising self-compassion. We are not souls floating around, but people with bodies and minds and hearts and souls, and in order to be a Watcher for the long haul and live life fully, we need to care for ourselves.
3. Self-Compassion is good for others
Now you’ve probably heard the saying ‘you wouldn’t talk to other people the way you talk to yourself’. It’s a phrase used to highlight that often we are harder on ourselves than other people. While that’s often true, it’s also quite common to be just as harsh on others as we are on ourselves. We don’t let people ‘get away’ with things we wouldn’t let our self ‘get away with’. We are attuned to catch faults in others, because we are always picking them up in ourselves.
In becoming kinder to ourselves, we can become kinder to others. This is because we recognise that, ‘this person is annoying me, but I also annoy people at times – it’s just part of being human’. Or, ‘that person isn’t coping with this situation very well, and slowing us all down, but there are some things I don’t cope with very well either – so maybe I can be more patient.’
See how the existence of flaws or suffering doesn’t actually have to be the end of the world?
So how do I practice Self-Compassion?
Self-Compassion is simple, but like any habit, it’s a continuous practice. Contrary to popular misconceptions, Self-Compassion is not just being ‘okay’ with ‘everything’. Nor is it being lazy or embracing sin or destructive habits. Rather, self-compassion is an attitude to embrace in a moment of suffering or hardship – even if (especially if!) the situation is our own fault.
So, you might be wondering how I ranked on the quiz above. Well, it turns out that a) I wasn’t actually that great at Self-Compassion, and b) I needed it desperately.
I’ve begun practising it, and it has been good for me. It has led me into a clearer understanding of God’s grace, it’s made my thoughts (of myself AND others) kinder, and it’s led me to be more joyful and grateful for God’s amazing mercy and for other people. A ‘side-effect’ of practising self-compassion is that I’ve begun praying for blessings (silently!) for people I meet while waiting in queue or on public transport. I suspect it’s because I’ve realised anew how alike we all are, how much we all need Jesus, and how precious the sister- and brother-hood of all humanity truly is.
Self-Compassion is a big yes from me!
NB: I also get that it might seem simple/common sense/obvious. That’s certainly what I thought. But I challenge you, tune into your thoughts and the way you process events for a week – I’m almost positive you’ll find a place where you would benefit from self-compassion!
In exactly ten days (as I write this!) the culmination of three years of work, ten years of writing seriously, and many, many hours of dreams, years and prayers, will be launched out into the wild.
That’s right! From August 28, 2021, you can be holding a copy of my memoir, Two Sisters and a Brain Tumour, in your hands.
Thrilled doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel – and I hope you’re getting excited too! To tide us all over until the launch, I’ve been posting a series of articles on my author website. They answer common questions, like:
As the publication date for Two Sisters comes closer, I’m beginning to realise how inadequate my memoir is. As a depiction of Watching, it’s painfully limited. It’s one person’s story, in one time, in one place. That doesn’t mean it’s redundant, but it does mean we need more. We need more well-written, engaging stories of our life as Watchers. We need more tales of tragedy and patience, joy and persistence. We need your stories, all of them, every single one of them! They might not all be published, but they all need to be told. In telling we confer a value onto our experiences, a value which they already hold in God’s eyes. Our lives are the materials with which he works.
Not only so, but stories create community, and community breathes hope. Loneliness is so often not the absence of people, but the absence of people with stories like your own. Every time you share your story to someone new, even if that story is two sentences long in a queue at the shops, there’s a chance you might change a life. We are all people who need to hear stories, who need to hear that we are not alone.
For this reason, it’s important that we think about our stories. We can’t tell them well, or share them helpfully if we bottle up our reactions and sweep away our experiences. On the other hand, a story pondered in the presence of God, is a story which has the chance to change the world for the better.
A few years ago I wrote an essay in answer to the question: Why Do I Write? I’ve included part of it below, because in the lead up to the launch of Two Sisters it remains as true as ever.
Why do I write?
When I come across a story like this, it changes my life just a little. Truth does that. Now, as I look back through the years, I see these novels [which changed my life] as one sees water drops sparkling in the twilight.
And so I write.
I struggle across the calendar pages, bearing this desire [to write] over my back, my own paper cross, a part of me which cannot be exorcised. Each year the numbered pages turn quicker and I fight harder to weave the stories I never got to read.
Not because I am confident I can, but because I have to try.
For I do not want them [life-changing stores] to be rare gems but common ones. Garden variety, preferably. When I close my eyes for a breath and still my aching fingers, I see people reading books and re-learning how to love and respond to others. I see communities sitting down and chewing over chapters and laughing as they cry, understanding that pain and loss are something we must talk about.
I see another thirteen year old, embarking on a quest, like all girls becoming women do, but her search is different to mine.
She is not hunting for my holy grail, she had no need to. Mine is splashed across the people and pages around her, ripe for the picking, glittering as a jewel.