Be Gentle With Yourself

by Catherine Doherty

Last week, while I was in the poustinia, a strange word came to me. That word was gentleness.

I thought about it a lot. I prayed about it as I sorted the bits and pieces of donated jewellery, trying to match them by color and size and function.

It came to me that gentleness primarily meant being gentle with yourself. Christ said to love our neighbour as ourselves, and our first neighbor is ourselves. That is the person whom we must first love, if we’re to set about loving anybody else.

How important it is to be gentle with ourselves! How often we swing in the opposite direction, getting angry with ourselves, or even angry at God!

I thought of how we flagellate ourselves, mentally speaking. We dwell upon our sins and think of ourselves as horrible people. Or we harass ourselves with the “wrong” decisions we have made or with indecision. We become exhausted.

We forget that the mercy of God is part of his gentleness. We forget that if we but turn to him when we have sinned and say “I’m sorry,” the sin is erased completely. He does not remember, because he does not want to. His mercy overshadows all.

And if we are indecisive about inspirations that we think might be from the Holy Spirit, something God wants us to do, we should check it out with a priest.

Then we can be gentle with ourselves, because gentleness comes from faith and trust. God will show the way so that we do not need to be always in a state of flux.

We need to check out things because we all can walk through periods of darkness where things get all out of proportion and we can’t distinguish anything.

We have to be gentle with ourselves, so that we can be gentle with God and with our neighbor. Then, whether we are washing dishes, sweeping a floor, or doing carpentry, we can be deeply united with Christ in prayer.

Now, how you pray and why you pray is another story, but prayer resides first and foremost in the service of our fellowmen.

Our prayer-time must be interrupted whenever we are called to help others who are in need. Our gentleness will be expressed in the way we serve them.

Prayer walks hand-in-hand with charity. It is always gentle and merciful. It is forgetful of self.

While Jesus was working with St. Joseph polishing wood, where was he? He was in union with his Father. So whatever we are doing is an opportunity to be gentle with ourselves, with our neighbour, and with God.

This meditation on the mercy and gentleness of God kept me awake at night, and an infinite compassion came out of my heart. I thought of how often we are un-gentle with ourselves. We can inflict so many wounds on ourselves. I can almost take you in my arms and say: “Rest now. Be gentle with yourselves. Be gentle.”

Where do you learn how to be gentle? St. John used to recline on the breast of Christ. I think we will become gentle toward ourselves and toward others, if we go and do likewise.

Then we will hear the heartbeats of God, and we will be able to let others hear them. Then we will be gentle to ourselves and to everybody else.

Excerpted from Dearly Beloved, vol. 3, (1990), April 21, 1976, pp. 79-81, available from MH Publications