Advice for Myself in Difficult Times

by Karen Richter

As I pondered what to write this week for the blog, I was reading a lot. And much of what I was reading was, at least on the surface, contradictory. Within the same five minutes, I would read “You’re not doing enough. No one is doing enough,” and “Rest and take care of yourself. You are enough.” I like to look for moments of spiritual whiplash, because they seem like moments of growth… and these last few weeks have been a whiplash bonanza. I meandered around the edges of several different writing topics, but everything seemed to be already said, better and more eloquently, by someone more qualified than I.

So I offer this little listicle… imagine that you are eavesdropping on an inner conversation, as I try to assimilate the messages of this heartbreaking July.


  1. There’s a difference between guilt and shame.

This is a helpful distinction for me, from the work of Brene Brown. Guilt is that feeling you get when you do something that’s out of step with your values. Guilt self-talk sounds like, “I did X but I believe Y. People who believe Y don’t do X. I want to be a person who acts consistently with Y! This feels bad.” Healthy guilt prompts us to act with integrity and wholeness. Shame self-talk is stronger and more difficult to experience. It sounds like, “I did X because I’m a bad person. People who do X are not worthy of love and respect.” Shame might result in temporary changes in behavior, but they don’t last.

In this difficult July, I’ve sometimes needed to sit with guilt and feel those difficult feelings. Twelve step spirituality talks about a ‘fearless moral inventory.’ Many of us (read: white folks) need to do some fearless reflection on race and privilege.

But as much as is possible, stay away from shame.  


  1. Take care.  Sleep. Move your body. Eat healthy food.

I’m treading carefully here, friends. Recently, I’ve heard the expression ‘Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others…” and it feels like an excuse for selfishness. I hear friends talk about Netflix and shopping as self-care and it sounds like a cop out.

So the questions are always What is valid self-care for me? How do I balance care of those closest to me and care of the world? How will I know when it’s time to step out of the cocoon of self-care and back into the hurting world?

Tentatively, I am reaching toward a rule that if a self-care tactic gives me energy to help others, that’s a good tactic. If a self-care tactic feeds an unhealthy dependence (social media, obsession with self-image, materialism), it’s not so good. The corollary to this rule is to be gentle with myself and others.

Helpful stuff


  1. Reach out. Listen. Help.

Last weekend, about a dozen of us gathered at Shadow Rock. In the days and hours after the shootings last week (Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, and the officers in Dallas), many in our congregation expressed a need to be together. So despite the valid self-care of our July Sabbath, we opened the sanctuary to sing, talk, pray, and comfort one another.

And it was a good thing. But there’s a reaching out that’s beyond our comfort zone, a reaching out to people with backgrounds, cultures, faiths, and experiences different from our own. It’s hard and holy work. And it’s in this part of the list – #3 – that I feel most humbled and need to hear my own advice the most.

Helpful stuff


  1. Love matters.

You know all those begats in the Bible (I’m talkin’ about you, Exodus chapter 6 and Matthew chapter 1)? Genealogies are often thought of as the most boring parts of scripture. But think of this: our spiritual ancestors were parents. And for a lot of them, that’s ALL WE KNOW ABOUT THEM. And parenting in 2016 is hard work. If nothing else, everyone on the Internet and IRL seems to find tremendous satisfaction in telling you what you’re doing wrong.

But it’s so important. Raising kind and brave children and supporting parents who are trying to do the same may be the only thing I do with lasting impact.

Helpful stuff

And #4 gives me the most hope. All around me, I see adults treating children with respect. I see parents trying to parent peacefully. I see our culture slowly, slowly become more welcoming to all kinds of families and kids.

So, so all the parents out there, I SEE YOU. And you’re doing great.


  1. Listen to your yoga teacher: When in doubt, soften.

Breathe. Center yourself. Find some muscle to relax. Repeat as necessary.