Sweetheart, you’re in pain.

by the Rev. Katherine Bush


You may know by now that I often walk in the mornings in Overton Park. Sometimes I walk with my dogs, sometimes without. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I talk to my friend in Connecticut, sometimes I listen to podcasts, sometimes I listen to the birds. A few mornings ago, I was listening to OnBeing with Krista Tippett and she was interviewing Sylvia Boorstein, a Jewish-Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist.


They talked about all kinds of things: parenting, mindfulness, fretting, and kindness. And toward the end of the conversation Krista shared that she had learned that Sylvia had this kind of mantra she repeated to herself that goes like this:


“Sweetheart, you are in pain. Relax. Take a breath. Let’s pay attention to what is happening. Then we’ll figure out what to do.”  


These are the words that Sylvia repeats to herself when she experiences moments of anxiety or fear. “Sweetheart, you are in pain. Relax. Take a breath. Let’s pay attention to what is happening. Then we’ll figure out what to do.” The advice was initially something that Sylvia offered to children, offering words of love, acknowledging the pain of the moment, then an opportunity to pause and breathe, and then (and only then) a time to think about what the next right steps might be.


As the two women talked about this advice and how it grew beyond something offered to children, I found myself walking through the woods trying it out. “Sweetheart.” I smiled. It’s hard to call yourself sweetheart and not smile. The two women still talking in my earphones were laughing at the idea of all these people walking around the world repeating this mantra to themselves because indeed, the advice had taken hold. Sylvia Boorstein reports that she regularly hears from people “in significant numbers” who use these sentences as a mantra in their own lives, and she loves the idea that there are a whole bunch of people out there talking to themselves calling themselves “sweetheart.” I was just one more as I walked along the trail.


“Sweetheart, you’re in pain.” It reminds me of the school Chapel talk advice suggesting that we talk to ourselves the way we would talk to a friend. So often we berate ourselves, but we would never talk to a friend the way we talk to ourselves. If our inner dialogue sounded like the counsel we’d offer a friend, it might start the way Sylvia’s does.   


“Sweetheart, relax.” It reminds me of the poem “God says yes to me” by Kaylin Haught which ends like this, “Sweetcakes God said / who knows where she picked that up / what I’m telling you is / Yes Yes Yes”  (Google that poem if you’re not familiar, it’s wonderful and worth its own blog post …)


“Sweetheart, take a breath.” It reminds me that we are really and truly beloved children of God, so why not try calling ourselves sweetheart or honeychild or pumpkin or whatever term of endearment makes you feel like someone really cares about you? We talk a lot about names for God, but consider for a moment the tender name that God might have for you, especially for when you are sad or hurting.   


And the rest of it is pretty solid advice too. “Sweetheart, you are in pain. Relax. Take a breath. Let’s pay attention to what is happening. Then we’ll figure out what to do.” Sometimes the days are okay, but sometimes they are hard.  When you find yourself in the midst of a rough go, can you call yourself gently and lovingly to attention, to breathe, and look around? Can you see the way forward and if not, can you see someone nearby who might offer a helping hand or just some quiet company?  


If there are indeed a lot of people in the world talking to themselves and calling themselves “sweetheart,” this sounds like good company to be in.

20 thoughts on “Sweetheart, you’re in pain.”

  1. Makes a good case for “ love your neighbor as YOURSELF”. Hard to love to others if you are busy feeling lousy about yourself

    1. John, that’s exactly right. As they wisely say, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Thanks for reading!

  2. Thank you, Katherine. This a lovely expression of self care that I definitely will practice. Other terms of self-endearment for this kind of meditation for some might be “Old Friend” or “Bud”

    1. Linda, it would be fun to collect a whole list of these names, don’t you think? I know families (maybe especially southern families … ) have some lovely and quirky terms of endearment!

  3. Katherine, I don’t mean to twist your words around, but as I read this I felt God calling me sweetheart, asking me to breathe, and reminding me that I wasn’t alone in my unsettledness. That He was there with me helping me to figure it out.

    1. Kate, I don’t feel like that’s twisting the words at all. The best thing that can happen for any of us is that we hear God speaking to us through others – through books, movies, poems, conversations with friends, even blog posts! God *is* calling *you* sweetheart!

  4. Thank you Katherine….. I love this so much. When alone a lot, talking to yourself may be the norm. This is a wonderful mantra. Have a cousin, the oldest one on my father’s side, always calls me Sweetheart and hearing it has always been powerful for me. I am the youngest cousin. The Words we choose can make such a difference.

    1. Zada, indeed the words we choose shape our realities, so they make all the difference in the world! I’m glad that this touched on a positive association for you. Keep calling yourself sweetheart!

  5. Katharine, when I saw the title of your blog I laughed out loud! I also listened to that podcast while walking. When I got home I immediately wrote the “mantra” in my journal so I’d have it before me. I also love the “God Says Yes to Me” poem (which I call the “Sweetcakes” poem). I’m so glad you shared this heart-lifting wisdom with others. The more of us walking around calling ourselves (& others including children) “Sweetheart,” the better the world is! See you Sunday!

    1. Mitzi, aka SWEETCAKES, I love this shared wisdom, and you’re right the world needs more of it. So glad that we’ll see you Sunday!

  6. Yes! Let’s be those people! This is good stuff. “Sweetheart” can be a demeaning/belittling term or just loving and actually sweet, at least in my experience, especially in the South. A little more complicated from a feminist perspective and also interesting to throw in childrens’ perspectives… But I want to be able to use “Sweetheart” in a loving, endearing and nurturing way.

    1. Leslie, I totally agree that these names are complicated and can be used to demean. I know I’ve been on the receiving end when someone’s used a name to make me feel smaller. I hope we can reclaim the goodness and love in these words in ways that lift up and respect the people around us – and ourselves! So glad you’re reading and grateful for your voice in the conversation!

    1. Thanks for reading, Nancy, and you’re so right – we ought to be gentler with ourselves!

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