Despite the fact that I have everything I need, too often I find myself sliding down the miry slough of self-pity. What about you? Self-pity comes naturally to us all, but I think it’s a particularly tempting sin for moms of young children, since little ones require so much of us and often keep us from the activities we used to have time to enjoy. As our bodies expand and our wallets thin from the strain of our children’s needs, we can begin to see ourselves as the stars of our own tragedies. But since self-pity steals our joy, takes our gaze off Christ, and paralyzes us from obedience, we should struggle against it, and although succumbing to self-pity’s poisonous effects comes naturally, God has equipped us to be victorious over it if we are willing to be faithful.
Recently, I found myself tumbling headfirst into self-pity while talking on the phone with my husband who was in the middle of a two-week trip to California for grad school. As he enthused about his brilliant professors and stimulating lectures, I balanced the phone between my cheek and shoulder so I could continue rubbing peanut butter on my daughter’s hair to remove the gum that had embedded itself therein with barnacle-like tenacity. Relative chaos reigned in the background as the two younger kids engaged in some sort of mischief involving the Tupperware drawer. I began to dive into self-pity.
Poor me, I thought. Everyone else is having a wonderful day and I’m wrist-deep in hair and peanut butter.
Notice what happened there. My husband turned into “everyone else,” and this one small incident turned into my whole life. Self-pity does that, doesn’t it? It takes a grain of truth—someone was having a great day while I was having an unenjoyable moment—and turns it into a poisonous, joy-strangling, fruit-crushing vine of discontentment.
I’m not proud to admit that I watered and fertilized that vine as the afternoon progressed, tallying up every happy Instagram photo in my feed against every minor inconvenience and imperfection in my own day. Woe was me! I’m grateful that the Spirit convicted me before I spiraled out of control. I knew what I needed to do because this struggle is such a familiar one. Here’s how I uproot self-pity when it takes hold.
Recognize it for what it is, and repent. Self-pity is sin. Its roots stretch deep into the rotting soil of ingratitude, discontentment, and failure to trust God. We feel sorry for ourselves when we think we deserve better than what God has given us. Ultimately, this is pride. Scripture has a lot to say about pride (and contrary to the rainbow confetti exploding around us this month, none of it is good). Prideful self-pity is sinful, and we get rid of it by following 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Rejoice in the plentiful blessings God has given. Name them, catalog them, recite them, share about them with others (humbly, not humble-braggingly!). Feeling sorry for ourselves is impossible when we are thinking about how blessed we are. And if we are in Christ, how blessed we are, indeed!
Serve others. The fruit of this step is twofold. First, service is obedience, as God calls us to serve one another in love (Gal. 5:13), and anytime we choose obedience, we are choosing the path to joy. Second, service is reorienting. Serving others reminds us that they have struggles, too. Serving reminds us that we have something to give, which in itself proves our abundance. Serving others takes the focus off ourselves and reminds us that we are part of the Body of Christ, which is larger than our own personal circumstances. As we make the meal or babysit or chauffeur or listen, our eyes turn from our own linty navels to the Lamb who is worthy to receive honor and glory and praise. Our hands stop their preoccupation with picking at our own scabs and get busy binding up the wounds of others. In this, we find purpose and joy.
Self-pity needs to be uprooted or its tendrils will strangle our hearts and minds. Replacing it with repentance, gratitude, and service removes its chokehold on us, freeing us to live joyfully and abundantly in Christ.