Let me ask you a question. If I was a guest in your home, or bumped into you at the grocery store, or saw you at a party, how would you speak to me? What tone would you use? What words would you choose? What patterns of speech would you follow?
Let me ask you another question. If I could magically listen to the way you speak to yourself inside your head, what would I hear? What does it sound like inside your head? What is the tone, the word choice, the speech pattern?
Are the two voices the same, the one you hear inside your head and the one you would use with a friend? Or are they different?
Is one cruel and the other kind?
Is one full of judgment and the other accepting and complimentary?
Is one full of shame and the other generous with grace?
For most of us, the two voices are very different. We gush with good things to say about others, but inside the confines of our own being we struggle to shut off the voice of condemnation. To stop and consider the chasm between the way we speak to others and the way we speak to ourselves might be startling, in a good way.
The truth is, our inner monologue reveals quite a bit about our capacity to love and accept others, and to examine it closely and explore opportunities for groth is an exercise in hospitality, whether we realize it or not.
When it comes to hospitality, most of us are great at giving attention to how we treat others, but are alarming negligent in giving attention to how we treat ourselves. Hospitality is the art of creating space for others and ourselves where change can occur. This extends to the corners of our own mind, and it includes the voice we use to speak to ourselves as well as the message our speech delivers.
The way in which you create space in your own head for kindness, empathy, and acceptance towards yourself greatly impacts your ability to do the same for others.
We all have the capacity for kindness inside of us. We pull it out and spread it around to others when the situation calls for it or if we are rightly motivated. We can be kind. But our ability to be kind to ourself is another matter. The skill of inward kindness is grossly undernourished and underdeveloped.
We smile and deliver the kindest of words to our friends, but then turn and tear ourselves down with insults we would never think of hurling at someone else. At times, the way we treat ourselves is a lot like the closet where we stash all the toys or laundry lying around in an effort to make it seem like our house is tidier then it really is.
Today I want to lovingly challenge you, to look you squarely in the eyes, to hold your shoulders, and to speak clearly to your heart as one who knows what it is to walk the dark road of self-rejection.
Be kind to yourself.
In the difficult times and the easy moments.
In the times when you hit the mark, and in the times when you miss it by a mile.
In the times when you are a model friend, sister, wife, and the times when you blow it.
In the times when your house is clean, and the times when it is a disaster.
In the times when your jeans fit, and in the times that they don’t.
In the times when your chicken is perfectly cooked, and in the times when you burn it to a crisp.
In the times when you meet expectations, and in the times when you fall short.
Be kind to yourself.
That voice in your head, the one that screams judgement, comparison, hate, and bitter indictments on you? She has got to go. She is not kind. She is tearing you down, planting seeds of bitterness and hate that only spoil the sweetness inside you. She would get boldly escorted right out of any party if she showed up. If you spoke to me the way she speaks to you, we would no longer hang out. If you spoke to your children the way she speaks to you, apologies would be in order. So why, as a bearer of the image of your Creator, do you allow her to speak to you in a voice that is anything other than kind?
Maybe you see expressing kindness to yourself as prideful.
Perhaps you believe it is wrong to think well of yourself. Maybe you think that deflecting kindness or compliments and accepting harsh criticisms is humble. Maybe you believe that if you focus on your faults you are keeping yourself from being prideful. News flash. Making yourself the center of negative attention is still making yourself the center of attention.
Expressing kindness to ourselves and allowing space for our inner monologue to be transformed into a place of beauty instead of battering, eases our load and loosens the grip we have on our need to focus on ourselves. By treating ourselves kindly we are more free to focus on others.
Maybe you see kindness to yourself as dishonest, because what is there to like or love?
Kindness to ourselves can feel like a ruse. For years I believed that if I fully accepted myself and all my flaws, then I was giving up and refusing to grow, admiting I would never reach my goals or becoming the version of myself I wanted to be. I believed that kindness was a reward I would receive when I finally “arrived.” The bar was always moving, the finish line fading before I could reach it. Kindness, in my head, was reserved for the girl I hoped to be, but never could quite achieve.
Years of this mindset left me worn out and exhausted, longing to find a way to love the girl I was while continuing to grow. When I uncovered the disparity between the way I treated others and the way I treated myself, I wanted what I gave others. But how could I get there? Just close my eyes and pretend not to see the things I saw that still needed growth?
No. The answer is not denial. The answer is knowing that acceptance is not apathy. I can accept who I am and still actively pursue growth and improvement. I can fully accept who I am, flaws and all, and simultaneously not be apathetic toward becoming the best version of myself. To speak kindly to a myself, a traveler still on the journey, is to be full of compassion and understanding. It is not giving up. It is cheering onward. With acceptance, there is room for kindness.
If self-hate is the ground from which you are starting, the road to transforming your inner voice from one of loathing to one of loving is not easy. It requires great emotional digging to find the root reason behind why we may find ourselves unlikeable or unloveable. For me, it took repeated weeks in the office of a trusted therapist who could gently and consistently shine a light on the lies I had been believing for so many years, and in their place restore the truth of who I am.
Maybe you see kindness to yourself as a waste of time, taking you away from loving others well.
There is great value in loving others. But that love is limited by the degree to which you can fully accept and love yourself. Show me a person who cannot love and accept themselves fully, and I will show you a person with limits on how well they can love and accept others.
If you find it difficult to accept certain things about yourself, if you find it unthinkable to look at yourself in the mirror and smile acceptingly at the reflection you see, then your ability to love and accept another will also be limited.
It is possible to dislike yourself and love others well, but only to a point. Your potential to love others well is determined by the degree to which you can express kindness and acceptance to yourself.
As we continue to engage in hospitality, in the art of creating space, anticipating need, and expressing love, consider the space in your own mind, the voice you carry with you. Is it kind, welcoming, and full of love and acceptance? Just as a home full of kindness is a place where love can flourish and connections thrive, so it is with our own thoughts and voices. And just as our homes are the place where we begin to put hospitality into action, the voice in our head determines to what extent that action will be full of love and kindness towards others.