A king, pouting in his palace. He’d seen some prime property, but the owner refused to part with it. So he sulked. He fumed and fussed, refused his food. King Ahab’s swollen sense of self-importance was assuaged only when his wife, Jezebel, arranged to have Naboth murdered – 1 Kings 21 tells the story. You may know the tale well.
You might not have created so much drama that eventually someone lost their life, but self-pity is part of the fallen human condition. We are all born self-centred, wickedly wired to insist upon life on OUR terms. And when we have decided that life has not treated us as the important humans we believe we are, we cry foul! We fume and fuss and sulk.
Let me break it down for you. At some point in your life, you are going to be hammered by adversity – it’s a ‘when’ and not an ‘if’. Past pain could have meant you were rejected or abused by someone you trusted, treated unfairly or unjustly. Someone you loved died – a child, a spouse, a parent, a sibling and nobody understands how badly you still hurt over that. Your neighbour doesn’t greet you, no-one visits you. You can’t find a job, no matter how hard you try. You go by unnoticed and unseen, you’re so lonely that you’re quite sure no-one will miss you if you’re gone. I’ve been there. MANY have been there. The problem is that self-pity robs you of seeing matters for what they really are, preventing you from making good choices, denying you the chance to be the blessing to the world you were meant to be. Here are some thoughts which have helped me steer (mostly) clear of the self-pity trap:
You’re not God. Stop disagreeing with Him on how you think He has treated you. When your self holds sway over your moods and decisions, you’re in full danger of what C.S. Lewis called ‘the sin of Satan’.
“The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the center—wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race.” (C.S. Lewis)
You’re moments away from becoming an Ahab.
Surrender to Jesus. Sins of the self are hard to pick up on but they are symptoms of an ego that won’t bend the knee. If you want to follow Jesus, you count your old nature as crucified with Him (Gal 2:20), thereby freeing you of the onerous burden of offence because you were mistreated.
Contemplate the Cross. Identify with Christ and what He endured for your sake. We have been treated way better than Him. He has, anyway, carried all that terrible hurt you’re feeling – what a waste to keep mentally churning on it! Turn your gaze to the tree of Calvary.
Walk in forgiveness. God has forgiven you everything, so don’t hold grudges against others. Naturally, tell people if they have hurt you and then leave it there. Let forgiveness wash your heart. Pray for your enemies, the Word tells you, for those who despitefully use you (Mat 5:44).
Go do something good for someone else. Reaching out might not necessarily make you feel happier, but it is going to stop you from being a pain to be around. Many of us tend to withdraw when we feel betrayed in our relationships, we go off and sulk on our beds like the King in the story. But by saying, ‘I’m not going to wait for someone to come and save me, I’m going to look around for someone I can save,’ you are changing focus. Self-pity says, ‘You owe me.’ A heart unfettered says, ‘How can I serve?’
We have a warped sense of self when we allow life’s injustices (perceived or real) to determine our emotional state. Before long, bitterness sets in really hard. It is my feeling, though, that we can make a choice to trust that God “will work everything for the good, to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). He’s done it so many times before and He’ll do it again.
So, let yourself go.