Published by IVP on July 28, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Memoir
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When we experience frustrations in daily life, many of us hold ourselves to blame. Self-criticism is often our default setting. But we can have a more gracious posture toward ourselves. We can practice disciplines of self-kindness. Editor and spiritual director Cindy Bunch calls us to self-care through greater compassion for ourselves. She helps us pay attention to the frustrations that bug us in order to identify negative thinking about ourselves or others. As we do so, we can discern what we need to let go. This allows us to lean into the things that bring us joy. Each chapter is filled with spiritual practices and creative exercises for reflection and celebration. Be kind to yourself. And discover new opportunities to embrace joy.
According to the woman who wrote the foreword for Be Kind to Yourself, self-kindness is “an idea we hear very little about these days.” I laughed out loud when I read this, because from my vantage point, self-kindness is the ultimate new buzzword and is marketed everywhere. However, even though the foreword overstates this book’s novelty, Cindy Bunch provides solid advice for how Christians can improve their lives through self-kindness without idolizing themselves. Instead of telling her readers that they can meet all of their own needs from within, she encourages Christians to choose self-kindness within the context of reliance on God.
Personal and Unique
Bunch encourages readers to keep a daily record of their frustrations and joys, and she shares examples of her own in the chapter headings, showing how she has processed different struggles throughout her life. She writes about her working life as an editor, shares about a divorce that she went through shortly after her first child’s birth, and draws on recent experiences from her marriage and blended family to illustrate other points. Within these stories, she covers lots of important topics like love, prayer, and forgiveness, and provides examples of how self-kindness can help us cope with everyday life frustrations and make us more loving to those around us. She is honest and vulnerable about her own struggles with insecurity and self-judging thoughts, and shares lots of real-life examples of how she has grappled with these tendencies, especially with the help of a spiritual director.
This book is part memoir and part activity guide. Bunch shares practical suggestions for organizational issues like email management, and also recommends embodied spiritual practices that can cultivate deeper awareness, self-love, and worship to God. Many of these involve creative activities and imagination, and she shares photos of collages that she has created as a reflective activity. Some of these suggestions will resonate more with particular personality types than others. People who tend to be extremely analytical and matter-of-fact may find some of these activities off-putting, while others may find them challenging and freeing. Bunch encourages readers to evaluate the activities on a case-by-case basis, skipping any that would not be helpful.
I appreciate Bunch’s personal vulnerability, but I found this book to be mostly surface-level, since she covers so many different topics in a short book. For example, she has a brief chapter on the Enneagram, but she can only introduce it in a very basic way, and draws on social-media-sourced comments to illustrate the different types. One person’s comment may not resonate with someone else with the same number, and I’m not sure who this chapter is best suited for. People who are already familiar with the Enneagram will have read more detailed, more helpful treatments elsewhere, and those who are only beginning to learn about it may not be able to type themselves accurately based on the very short descriptions. Also, many of the activity ideas interrupt the text’s flow, making this an uneven reading experience.
Conclusion | Be Kind to Yourself
Be Kind to Yourself: Releasing Frustrations and Embracing Joy has lots of unique elements, and it is full of simple ideas and embodied spiritual practices that can help people connect with God throughout everyday life, be gentler and kinder to themselves, and live in relationship with others out of a secure base. However, even though this book is unique and interesting, I personally found it somewhat scattered, since it addressed so many different topics so briefly, and squeezed in new activity ideas before some paragraphs or even sentences had ended. This was only a three-star book for me, but if what I have described sounds interesting and helpful, I would encourage someone to pursue it. This book has lots of great elements, and provides a helpful Christian perspective on the popular concept of self-care.