COPING WITH COVID-19: Practicing Self Compassion

Wanda Sevey on reclaiming a place of safety through God's presence
Wanda Sevey

The COVID-19 crisis continues to impact the Princeton Theological
Seminary community. To help us navigate this season, experienced
counselors in the Seminary community are providing guidance on simple
methods you can use to reduce anxiety and stress. We hope you find
comfort and hope as you read about tips, techniques, and testimonies
from members of our campus and alumni community.

This week’s reflection is offered by Wanda Sevey, director of student counseling.

I grew up inland, 300 miles from the Pacific Ocean. It was too far to go to the beach for a swim. It was also too far north. The waters of Puget Sound were too cold for a swim, even in the middle of summer. My idea of swimming in open water was a lake surrounded by hills of pine trees, a floating dock, and an inner tube.

Going "down the Jersey shore" with classmates from Princeton Seminary was my first experience in the waves. I waded out up to my waist. When the first big wave came toward me I did what any sensible person would do; I turned and ran toward the beach. You know what happened next. I discovered that day that you can’t outrun a wave. You can go under it, float over it, ride it in, or plug your nose and shoot to the bottom while it goes over you, but you can’t outrun it. It will flatten you every time.

The same is true for those times we feel overwhelmed by negative emotion and pain. It seems counterintuitive, but sometimes the best option is to reclaim a place of safety in God’s presence through accepting God’s compassion and grace for us and applying it to ourselves in prayer and meditation. In other words, going toward the emotional pain instead of avoiding it is a way to manage it.

Tara Brach is a psychologist who specializes in meditation for mental health. She developed a practice called “The R.A.I.N. of Self Compassion.” Here in the Office of Student Counseling at Princeton Seminary, we’ve expanded it to include prayer and spiritual imagination to help rediscover the safety of God’s presence and kindness.

R.A.I.N. is an acronym for the four steps of the practice. When feelings of being overwhelmed or when self critical voices come up, pay attention to them in a new way.

Recognize what is going on;

Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;

Investigate and inquire about what is going on;

Nurture and nourish with prayer and self-compassion

I hope you will try the practice for yourself by clicking on it below.

    Wanda Sevey, MDiv ‘85, LMFT, is Princeton Seminary’s director of student counseling. Her work is rooted in her conviction that being in relationship is part of being created in God’s image and that the power of relationship to transform us is rooted in the work of the Holy Spirit. She works from an integrated relational perspective and has specialized training in Emotionally Focused Therapy, EMDR, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, The Gottman Approach, and Internal Family Systems.

    Educating faithful Christian leaders.

    Associate Pastor, Faith Lutheran Church, Bismarck, ND

    Sylvia Bull, Class of 2015

    “My field education placements lifted up my gifts for ordained ministry, and the dual-degree program helped me develop the skills for ministry.”