Yesterday, I talked with a friend about the temptation to self-pity. After that conversation, I went back to read an old post. Remember how much this had helped me, I thought it would be worthwhile to re-post.
In D.A. Carson's commentary on 1 Kings 19 in For the Love of God Vol. 1, he examines some of the ways that Elijah gives into "the despair of unfulfilled expectations." As I read that this week, I found myself really resonating with Carson's description of Elijah. Though I am not particularly tempted at this very moment, self-pity has called like a siren during this extended season of unfulfilled expectations, and I'm sure it will continue to do so. I have adapted some of Carson's thoughts into a plan to fight against self-pity.
1) Be honest about the facts (don't exaggerate). I give into self-pity when I only focus on a momentary trouble and magnify how bad it is, rather than acknowledging that there are blessings in my life as well as trials. For example, when I found out about our need to do IUI or about the cyst, my first reaction was, "Everything that can go wrong does!" While both of those were truly disappointing setbacks, my response exaggerated the problem and overlooked the many positives in our battle against infertility (only facing one hormonal problem, great doctor & nurses, excellent insurance, good response to medication, etc.). Not only that, my response overlooked the big picture of my salvation and sanctification.
2) Don't judge the hearts of others. Self-pity not only affects me, it affects how I view others. I feed my self-pity by thinking, "No one else cares. No one else understands. No one else realizes how hard this is for me." In reality, I am surrounded by people who care, who want to offer comfort, who want to help me escape from sin and trust God through this trial. I do a great disservice to those people when I judge them out of my self-pity.
3) Remember God's promises. In the throes of self-pity, my circumstances and emotions seem so much more real and true than God's word. But I can nip self-pity in the bud by having faith that God's promises (to be faithful, to do good, to sanctify me, to bless me) are true even when I cannot see them or feel them.
4) Remember that God will not always work in the obvious way I want him to. I have great ideas about how God should work - he should end this trial by letting us conceive a healthy baby! I've learned all my lessons, right? He'll get glory by answering my prayers as soon as possible, right? Seems like a good idea to me... But when I think I know best how God should work in my life, I am easily tempted to self-pity when God does not work how I expect. I need to trust that his ways are higher than mine.
5) Find others to carry part of your burden. When I give into self-pity, I tend to isolate myself. Then, it becomes that much easier to exaggerate how bad my circumstances are, to judge others as uncaring, to ignore God's promises, and to complain about God not working how I want. When I am the only human audience for these thoughts, they start to dig in deep. But if I open up to others - my husband first, and then other friends - my sin is exposed and can be addressed and corrected, my despair is lessened as others help me, and I am pointed back to my loving and trustworthy God.
I think if I can even remember one of these things when I am tempted, it would throw a big wrench into the cogs of self-pity. By the Spirit's help, I hope to be able to capture self-pitying thoughts more and more quickly as time goes on. May he "fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified" (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)!
(originally posted on 8.18.2006)