I am convinced that the only way we can have compassion for others is when we show compassion to our own selves. I am equally convinced that the only way we show compassion to ourselves is if we believe God shows compassion to us.
You’ll hear in our text today that true peace comes from accepting the compassion Christ offers each of us. Think you’re not worthy? Think again…because the way of salvation is allowing Christ to re-activate our sense of worthiness. Another way you often hear me say it… we claim God’s blessing on our lives, when we cultivate the kind of self-worth that leads to compassion- for ourselves and for every single other human on this planet.
1 Timothy 2: 1-7 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and acceptable before God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, 6 who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time. 7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth; I am not lying), a teacher of the gentiles in faith and truth.
God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. The truth is, everyone deserves compassion, even you. We’ve been following Brene Brown’s work on whole-hearted living, including courage, compassion, and connection. Here’s what Brene Brown says about compassion in her book Rising Strong:
“In cultivating compassion we draw from the wholeness of our experience—our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
This is what Jesus is talking about. He KNOWS the human experience- he’s living it as he speaks. His compassion for us is not “there there now, it’ll be okay.” It’s “Oh I get it, life can really suck. Suck your energy, your sense of purpose, your ability to thrive. I’m human, I know how hard it can be. The saving grace of Christ’s compassion is not pity for us, it’s solidarity.
You know that friend you turn to in hard times, because you know they’re gonna walk beside you. They won’t judge your big feelings. They understand- and the compassion they show is not pity. It’s solidarity. For me, that’s my sister Alison. We’re different in a lot of ways, but in the way it matters most, we get each other without fail. When I have a freak-out moment, I call her because I know she won’t pity me- she’ll show me compassion. This is the way Christ yearns to walk alongside each of us. I also turn to prayer when I’m having big feelings, but often that comes after I have a human encounter of solidarity.
One of the most intriguing parts of Brown’s work on compassion involves a finding that surprised even her. It turns out the most compassionate people she interviewed had ONE major commonality. I bet you wouldn’t guess what it is.
Let me start with what it’s NOT. It’s NOT overextending- making yourself available 24/7. It’s not losing sleep worrying about others. It’s not being the most helpful all the time. It’s not exhausting yourself in the name of justice.
No, the most compassionate people she encountered had the strongest boundaries. She offers a very simple definition for holding boundaries. Knowing and communicating “what’s ok and what’s not ok.” When we don’t set boundaries, we let people do things that aren’t ok and that leads to resentment. People who have boundaries are clear on what is and what is not their responsibility. In other words, compassionate people are NOT people-pleasers. They don’t lose sleep over someone else’s worry. They don’t assume authority over situations that someone else needs to own.
What’s the connection between compassion and boundaries? Well-boundaried people are the most self-compassionate. They don’t let people push them to a place of resentment because they believe they are worthy of being treated with respect. They believe in their own self-worth and are willing to pursue health and life abundant. That’s what boundaries offer, that’s also what Christ teaches us. When we hold boundaries, we have the mental and emotional and physical reserves to be truly compassionate toward others. So let’s take the airline attendant’s reminder seriously- Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.
I get that it’s hard to do this. Setting firm boundaries isn’t popular with those in our lives who are not healthy. And we’ve acquired so many voices that disrupt even the best of our intentions. “I should.” Have you said this lately? You’re exhausted, but that one extra responsibility keeps nagging at you..even though you have nothing left to give. The word “should” creeps into our everyday language all the time. I want you to pay attention this week to how many times you say it. At its core, a “should” statement suggests remorse for a past failure. You might try substituting “ought” as a way to discern if you do need to make space for that responsibility in the future. “Ought” is lived forward in time, and you might just find that not as much needs your attention as those voices in your head told you. Maybe you can let some things go.
Maybe there’s other negative self-talk that get in the way of self-compassion or firm boundaries. What’s your self-talk sound like? “Gah, I’m so dumb.” “Stupid me, I should have remembered that!” “I’m always messing up.” “I don’t deserve love.” “I’m not good enough.” Do any of those sound like things Jesus would say?
You and I will NEVER be at peace until we start practicing self-compassion in the name of the one who created us good! It’s hardly selfish. In fact, it’s the only way to also practice compassion for others. We cannot see the good in others without first dealing with the voices that say we’re not worthy of compassion ourselves.
Are you willing to do something with me that might feel a little funny? Let’s practice self-compassion, like right now. It’s the ONLY way any of us are able to actually live out REAL compassion when we leave this place of worship.
Okay, repeat after me:
I am worthy of compassion. / I can make mistakes/ and still be lovable. / My worth is not tied to how pretty I am/ or how many people I can help/ or how much money’s in my bank account/ or what kind of clothes I wear/ or how often my family visits me. I am worthy of compassion/ because I am a child of God.
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.