Self-pity is suffocating.
It is necessary and biblical to mourn over one’s circumstances or sins. But self-pity is of a different nature; it renders you unable to serve others, hope, or pray earnestly. It stems from faithlessness and introspection. It’s a stubbornness of heart, head, and hands.
We’d do ourselves well to admit that most (if not all) of our self-pity is a sin.
Yet God is not a careless, absent deity. He is a loving, ever-present Father to His children. He counts the hairs of our heads and values us more than each of the world’s billions of nameless birds (Luke 12:7). We have ample biblical reason to shift our focus away from our self-pity and onto God’s providence.
Yet self-pity confuses even the most sincere saint since it emotionally bears such close resemblance to repentance.
Of all the weapons a Christian can wield against self-pity—prayer, worship, remembering God’s past faithfulness, serving others—perhaps one of the strongest is bringing to mind Christ’s endurance of the cross.
To such an end the author of Hebrews exhorts us:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Self-pity is utterly mortified when brought into the presence of Christ’s supreme self-effacement. He who possessed all glory stripped Himself of every comfort and endured the worst hatred and pain from men, receiving God’s wrath for every act of human treason men had committed. Our state is changed from that of an enemy to an adopted child when we accept His sacrifice.
Of course, beloved infants still die, marriages still end, finances still crumble, and we in the West haven’t even had the slightest taste of the suffering endured by our spiritual brothers and sisters across the globe. Though our circumstances may not change externally and life’s pains may seem no duller, we have been far surpassing promise of joy that outweighs even the worst suffering this life could offer.
Sadness, lament, and mourning certainly have their place in the life of a saint. God does not call us to a stupid, pie-in-the-sky sort of cheeriness that ignores life’s realities. But what should have no place in the life of a saint is a pattern of selfish, introspective self-pitying.
Despising the Shame
The cross is the sword we brandish against self-pity.
That sharp blade, however, is dulled by what I’d like to call the white-knuckling mentality. We focus on endurance at the expense of its end, which is joy. Grin and bear it, we say. It’ll be over soon enough. And though these empty self-assurances serve their purpose, they are ultimately masked versions of the same lingering self-pity rearing its head once more. The old weed resurges when its roots have been left intact.
How can you consistently uproot self-pity from your heart?
As we look to Jesus’ sufferings for our strength, we find something incredible in His mindset. In Hebrews 12:2, we are told that Jesus not only endured the cross for the sake of the joy awaiting Him on the other wise, but that He also did this while “despising the shame.”
Self-pity stems from the belief that we deserve better. This is a lie, of course. Sin-loving as we are in our former state, we deserve the lowest Hell for our treason.
But for Christ, this was not true. Christ deserves unspeakably greater things than the shame of the cross. He was, in a sense, the only Man who ever deserved to revel in self-pity. For Him, it would have been a legitimate emotional recognition that He was suffering a far worse fate than should have ever befallen Him.
His death, which we now hold in high honor as His redeemed children, was not honorable. It was utterly shameful.
That is the shame He despised.
He completely overthrew any theoretical dominion self-pity might have claimed over His heart.
That same choking, gasp-for-air self-pity which we try to white-knuckle our way through took the will and resolve of Jesus Christ, filled with the Spirit, to expel.
Any effort we make to stomp out self-pity will prove futile if we do not correct remedy the lie telling us that we technically deserve far better. We look to the Suffering Servant as not merely the chief white-knuckler—though He “set His face like a flint” towards the cross (Isaiah 50:7)—but as the supreme shame-destroyer, giving no dominion to self-pity but looking to God for vindication.
We have a hope that though we do not deserve better than our present circumstances, however dismal they be, in Christ God apportions us His reward for His righteousness. We, like Christ, can confidently hope for deliverance from our suffering, sometimes in this life and always in the next. And in such hope, self-pity is utterly shamed.
Mourn with those who mourn. Laugh with those who laugh. But far be it from an adopted, conquering co-heir of Christ to pity himself.
Image credit: Flickr/Rob Hardingii, edited