In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul says:
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.” – Ephesians 4:32
God calls us to practice kindness to others, to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) and to “be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Eph 4:2) Showing kindness to others is a requirement of every follower of Christ.
Lately God has been leading me to ask: “Why can’t I show that kind of kindness and gentleness with myself?”
Recently I was asked to complete a Strengths Finder analysis as part of a leadership training event. The test results came back listing my top three strengths as Achiever, Responsibility and Discipline. (Party girl, I know). The description of the Achiever profile stated: “You feel as if every day starts at zero. By the end of the day you must achieve something tangible to feel good about yourself.”
This shockingly accurate statement has led to a little self-reflection. Sure there are upsides to having a drive to productivity; productive people are generally successful in getting things done. But they can also be incredibly hard on themselves. I am when I fail at my goals – including goals regarding spiritual disciplines.
I know that it is absolutely essential that I spend time every day in prayer and Scripture. Time with God and in His word is critical to living the life He has called me to. I need to spend time with Him for His peace and power to be at work in every aspect of my life… so I am intentional in planning time for this every day.
Unfortunately, my plans are sometimes rigid and unrealistic. I can get caught in a cycle of setting overly ambitious targets for prayer and study that I just can’t stick to, and sinking into discouragement and frustration when I can’t meet my lofty goals.
Lately God has been speaking to me about becoming more gentle with myself. Yes, it is important to set goals and to plan for time with God, but beating ourselves up when we miss the mark is not helpful. Gentleness for me in this area means setting goals that are reasonable given the season of life that I am in. It means forgiving myself in the times when I don’t meet my goals and moving forward. It means being flexible to adapt my plan when necessary.
This year I scrapped my daily routine entirely after months of frustration and have settled into a much more reasonable routine that is serving me well. I am in the Word daily but am choosing ‘slow and steady’ study and growth, spending time meditating on smaller portions of scripture and working my way through studies at a more manageable pace.
As women we can often be our own worst critics. The enemy knows just how powerful a tool discouragement can be. Getting us stuck in an unproductive rut of frustration that stagnates our growth is exactly what he’s after.
For me, practicing gentleness with ourselves doesn’t mean opting out of the spiritual practices that are crucial to our growth. Instead, it’s about lightening up a little, cutting ourselves some slack when needed, and practicing the same kindness and gentleness with ourselves that Jesus offers to us.
“Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)