Adversity

Pity

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.

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Crisis

An early morning Sunday, the air clear but heralding the intention of heat later on. I’m spruced, I’m dressed, I’m breakfasting – signs of my intention to head off to church soon. I throw open my balcony doors to welcome the cool breeze before the day warms, and suddenly I hear desperate birdsong, panicked screeching. I look out and see cats surefootedly stalking a fluttering, vibrant-green parakeet flying from bush to bush. I hurriedly leave my eggs and juice to dash down flights of stairs, church dress flailing about me in my rush to save a little bird.

But all I can do is chase the predators away – I have no rescue plan, here on my own. And the frightened ball of feathers won’t let me near him and flies off to a balcony way beyond my reach. I’m late for church. I shoot off a prayer to the Creator of the bird, who made me too, asking Him to salvage this situation – but then I must rush to be on time for the service.

It’s a lovely time together, we sing a song about trusting Jesus in the valleys and the minister reminds us of belief and faith, to hope for things unseen. I make my way home, my heart fed and full.

As I get closer to my door, I hear it again –this time a stronger chirp from somewhere high above my head. I halt for a while under the tall trees outside my home, trying to find brighter green among a greater sea of swaying leaves. A woman makes her way to me – it’s her bird, and she’s heartbroken over his escape. Two pairs of eyes are now trying to pinpoint the location of the chirping, and we’re talking, talking as two women do in such a situation. I find out she attends church too. We exchange numbers. She invites me for tea sometime. I like her instantly, we laugh like old friends, and collectively cry out with dismay as her beautiful parakeet takes flight to a tree beyond our fences. Gone. I promise to come over in the week for that promised cup of tea, if only to commiserate with her over this loss.

It’s only later in the afternoon, returned from family visits, that the thought starts forming in my mind. We furiously pray against hurdles and adversity in our lives, banishing the negative with positive affirmations, visualising the glorious solution to all our problems – and call it faith. I don’t dispute the place of hope in our darkness, it is indeed what keeps the ship from sinking. But the escape of a bright little parakeet reminded me that there’s often an opportunity concealed in the folds of a hardship or event not to our liking, something that would not have come otherwise. Because today, I made a friend.

The tale has a joyful conclusion. The following day, the bird returned – and of own accord came to sit down on the top of his cage, in search of his mate inside. My new friend was able to quickly throw a towel over him, scoop him up and return him to safety. We rejoiced over our cup of tea that our Creator still cares for his creation!