The Gift of Self-Compassion

by the Rev. Paul McLain

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Mark 12:31

One of the traditions I experienced for many years in the Baptist church was Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting. After a gigantic potluck meal of “cooked to death” Southern meats and vegetables and every conceivable casserole known (and some unknown) to humanity, each starting with “a stick of butter,” we got down to the business of offering up prayer requests. The pastor would ask who needed prayer and congregation members would share news about fellow church members and folks in the community going through difficult medical situations. I must confess that, as we argued over the intimate details of Mrs. Sadie’s gallstones, our dialogue crossed the border from genuine compassion for others to engaging in outright gossip. The HIPAA (health privacy) police would have had a field day with us! But one thing I noticed in years of attending these sessions, almost no one asked for prayer for herself or himself.


Baptists are not alone in this phenomenon. We Episcopalians, along with those of other religious traditions, find it easier to offer prayer or ask for prayers for someone else rather than ourselves. Part of it is our unwillingness to make ourselves vulnerable by acknowledging that we are even in need of prayer. But I think it goes deeper than that. Very few of us have cultivated (or given ourselves permission to think of) self-compassion as a spiritual practice.


Scott & Ardelle Walters gave me and others a gift by recommending a Compassion Cultivation Training program that they participated in several years ago. As is most everything these days, we’re doing the course over Zoom and I’ve enjoyed connecting and reconnecting with clergy colleagues from around the country. One of the focuses of the class has been cultivating a sense of self-compassion. It makes sense. Thupten Jinpa, a former monk and deep thinker in cultivating compassion, wrote, “Prioritizing self-compassion is like the airline safety announcement: ‘If you are traveling with children, make sure that your oxygen mask is on first before helping your children.’ The strength of character, courage of heart, and depth of wisdom to be there for other people depend on our compassion for ourselves.”[i]


Today marks the halfway point of 2020, which has to go down as one of the strangest years in memory. Our lives have been turned upside down by COVID-19 and by coming to terms with racial inequality and injustices. It has been a gut-wrenching season of grief, uncertainty, confession, and fear. We are jolted, jarred, and jagged. It takes me back to a low point in my life when these feelings were very raw for me. I saw a grief counselor who wrote out a prescription for me at the end of our session. When I left her office, I opened the prescription note and found two words: “Nurture self.” I began taking long walks in nature and gave myself permission to pray for me. It was liberating, healing, restorative, and hopeful.


Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Not “instead of” yourself. What are some ways you can give yourself a little kindness this week? Where are the tender places in your soul that need nurturing? What is the prayer have you been longing to lift up for yourself?



[i] Thupten Jinpa, A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives, 152.

12 thoughts on “The Gift of Self-Compassion”

  1. Bless you, Paul. Indeed, what you have shared is a sacred reminder that our bodies are temples of the living God and worthy of tender care and compassion.

  2. Thanks, Paul. I mentioned to a colleague today that it feels like this summer, which is normally a time for academics to work on some projects and recharge a little, just feels like another semester. Your words are timely.

  3. Thank you, Paul. This is an especially meaningful and helpful observation and reflection. It is especially so at this time in history.

  4. What an excellent reminder! Thanks you!!
    from a non-Episcopal ….. the little country Methodist church (we were not the United Methodist church in the ’40’s) where I was baptized was right across the “road” from the Baptist church. There was not an Episcopal church in the county.

  5. A friend recently gave me a gift with this “Prayer of Protection” attached:

    The light of God surrounds you.
    The love of God enfolds you.
    The power of God protects you.
    The presence of God watches over you.
    Wherever you are, God is.
    All is well.

    It occurred to me to try praying this by replacing the “you” references with “me” and “I,” and I am finding it easier and more comfortable to do so as time goes on. Thank you, Paul, for reaffirming this.

    1. Kate, I’m going to try this because I’ve gone a little deaf to the metta (loving kindness) meditation I’ve been doing for so long. Same idea, fresher words. Great column, Paul

  6. Paul, thanks for your uplifting and restorative reflection. When I read it early this morning, I began to hum the tune to Balm in Gilead, the old, traditional African American ballad . . . to make the wounded whole. We all need to nurture our spiritual health along with our physical and mental health.

  7. There is so much need for self nurturing and self compassion . Thank you for encouraging us to practice both in order to be better human beings. Inspired by this quote «  perffect your love for thé human life you were given »

  8. A lovely written reminder to all of us. Thank you for Including yourself and introducing the theme. Can we now have a Boot Camp, please, Showing us how to do this, not just Telling us we need to. I am one of those who learns things with great difficulty without a baseball bat knocking me in the head every morning reminding me. I need to be shown.

    Thank you!

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