Review: Be Kind to Yourself

Be Kind to Yourself, Cindy Bunch (Foreword by Ruth Haley Barton). Downers Grove: IVP Formatio, 2020.

Summary: A little handbook of ideas and practices to help us exercise kindness toward ourselves by releasing what bugs us and embracing joy.

How often have you heard, “I’m my own worst critic.” Life is challenging. Sometimes we make it worse as we berate ourselves (and others) and rob ourselves of joy. Cindy Bunch, an editor who has worked on many spiritual formation books has written one that gets very real about the hard stuff (like a divorce) and proposes that we might do well to learn to exercise kindness toward ourselves, even as God has.

The book is organized around three ten-day examen guides, and within each ten days, four ways of showing kindness. The examen is one of the simplest and most straightforward I’ve seen. It consists of two questions:

  1. What’s bugging you?
  2. What’s bringing you joy?

Acknowledging and letting go of the things that bug us positions us to embrace the moments of joy in our lives and enlarge them.

Each of the chapters on ways to be kind to ourselves start with the author’s own answers to the examen questions and then offers some personal reflections and two or three sidebars with practical suggestions. For example the chapter on “I saw it on Twitter,” subtitled “Knowing What to Let Go” reflects on social media and email, and how we may redemptively use these tools. She begins by commending the use of the serenity prayer (“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”), and then offers sidebars on email management and a social media fast and reset.

There are chapters on paying attention to beautiful things, speaking kindly to ourselves, creating new mental playlists, self-care practices, and even a chapter on the Enneagram. As a bibliophile, I loved the material on reading, but was also challenged by the practice of slow reading, as one who tends to read fast. I was also intrigued by the idea of reading retreats. I even posted a “question of the day” about reading retreats on my Facebook page, and I think I had a bunch of people ready to sign up–particularly if the retreats included wine!

This book comes out during a stressful season which makes it all the more timely. I know of organizations providing distress days and making accommodations for the extra stresses on their workers. We may be tempted to beat up on ourselves because we don’t feel nearly as productive, or sharp, or as composed as we feel we ought to be. I think Cindy Bunch would want us to see that that’s OK. It’s a good time to rediscover what it means to be kind to ourselves. And it’s a good time to buy this book!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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