The Lazarus Project

Resurrecting hope for Christian victims and survivors of family violence.

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Four words that changed my life

      A friend of mine once told me something several years ago, when I was putting way too much pressure on myself, and making myself--and everyone around me--completely miserable.  The truth was so profound, and so very basic, but something that I honestly had never done in my life. And this is a common concern I've found with most of the victims with whom Ive worked over the years.  The four-word sermon my friend said to me:

      "Be Gentle With Yourself."

       I was so hard on myself! And people that meet me now, who knew me then, tell me: "Oh, my God, you've changed so much. Before, you were so....intense."  Intense. A nice word for another, more accurate, but not-so-nice word that described me.

     And you know, when my friend had shared those four transformative words with me, I came to realize the total hypocrisy of the situation. Here I was, living to give and serve other people, being gentle and kind toward them, but harsh and cruel and demanding toward myself.  And I started thinking, how can I show the love of Christ to others, but not to myself? If Christ is going to hold me accountable for how I treat "the least of these"--am I not one of them, too?  Will He not also hold me accountable for how I treated myself?  If I do not show the love of Christ to me, how can I truly do it to someone else without being a two-faced sham?

     I found that I knew all sorts of things about how to love others, but I didn't know the first thing about how to be nice to myself.  And even when I first got married, I was still in the process of trying to learn how to be nice to me (it was not as easy as it sounds). Vic, my husband,  observed one day: "Honey, if anyone else ever spoke to you the way you talk to you, I'd beat them up." Ouch! And so, I discovered that I had still more to lighten up on.

     And though I've gotten better at it, I have not arrived.  But I am learning that  if I have compassion for others, I need to also have compassion for myself.  If I am going to be forgiving of others, I need to also be forgiving toward myself.  If I have understanding for others, I need to also have understanding for myself.  I cannot be honestly there for others and not be there for me. 

     You know, I heard something else when I was a teenager that I think fits quite well: "to have a friend, you must first be one." That could not be more true than in the context of being a true friend to myself before I endeavor to befriend others.

      I know this sounds really basic. It is. But putting it into practice is another thing altogether.  Taking that awareness into the practical, day-to-day way that I relate to myself is a fundamental spiritual discipline. I know that it is unlike most of what we hear consistently in church, but absolutely crucial if we, as survivors, are to be living authentic, God-honoring lives.


--Christine Hagion Rzepka

Posted on 03/09
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