I believe that we were created for healthy, peaceful relationships1 and this is foundational to my having great hope for our capacity to grow, change and heal. Regardless of one’s spirituality, religion or faith, I think that many of us sense on an intuitive level, deep in our gut, that humanity was meant for better things than the brokenness which we all observe and experience.
As a Christian I also see these themes played out in the Bible, in the Genesis account of Adam and Eve.2 Before life was broken3 human beings are depicted as living in perfect harmony with themselves, with each other and with God.4 There was no fear of being hurt (they would not even know what hurt and pain were at this point in the story), and there were no nagging insecurities of wondering whether they would be accepted or loved. But all of that was turned upside down when brokenness entered our world: Instead of feeling safe, they each felt threatened and afraid. Instead of feeling accepted and loved, they felt ashamed and rejected. Instead of being kind to each other they attacked and blamed one another. It was an emotional and relational nightmare!
Reflecting on the relational harmony we were meant for, and what has happened instead, gives me great compassion for humanity and the struggles we all experience. Growth and change can be hard! Various forms of fear and shame5 plague everyone (whether we are conscious of this or not). And these struggles, these fundamental ways that we all have brokenness, can make growth a difficult, painful process. We are each walking out an experience of life that is twisted from what we were meant for, and so it is understandable that we stumble at times, and that we even do bad things at times.
However, I don’t think that understanding and compassion for oneself means denying the destructiveness of our bad behavior–when we hurt others we are still accountable for our acting hurtfully (whether it was intentional or not). And in fact I believe that real growth requires that we face the destructiveness of our bad behaviors (without minimizing or explaining things away). But I find that when we seek to engage our mistakes with compassion instead of judgment, and seek to understand ourselves instead of heaping more shame on ourselves, that we can much more constructively own our failings (which is a prerequisite to growth and healing).6 And by finding courage and strength within–those echoes deep in our soul of the life we were created for–we can gradually learn to face our imperfections without shame, and so take steps towards more wholeness and peace.
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- both being at peace with our self, as well as with others ↩
- Christians and those of other belief systems approach the Bible and the Creation account in a variety of ways. For example, some view it purely as myth, some consider it to be God-inspired symbolism (i.e., that God is not trying to depict a literal Adam and Eve, but rather using them symbolically as a way to explain to humanity how the world became broken), and some consider it to be a God-inspired literal account (i.e., that Adam and Eve existed exactly as described in Genesis, etc.). Trying to sort out such questions is far beyond what I’ll be speaking to here. Suffice to say, however, that I think there are compelling themes presented in the Genesis account (related to how we think about humanity, what we were meant for, what we can aspire to, etc.), regardless of the theological perspective one is approaching the text from. ↩
- i.e., this would be “The Fall” in Christian theology, an event wherein humanity “fell into sin,” became broken, etc. ↩
- As well as living in harmony with the rest of Creation, i.e., plants, animals, and the planet as a whole. ↩
- i.e., insecurities, self-doubt, dislike of self, etc. ↩
- It is a common (but incorrect) fear that if we have compassion on ourselves (or on others) that this will somehow decrease our (or others’) motivation to change. Typically we default to using shame as a motivator (with our self and as well as others). And while shame can elicit some short-term effects, it is completely ineffective at bringing about deep, lasting change. Ironically (and tragically) shame actually decreases our ability to grow and heal. Shame is the equivalent of filling your garden with poison–the more you add, the more death occurs. Compassion, understanding and hope, however, are rich fertilizer for our souls–they contain essential nutrients we need in order to do the hard work of growth and healing. ↩
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The Art of StoppingAudience: Christians, General