This is the article I just wrote for our church's September newsletter:
We all do it. And I just did it a few days ago. I got up to a not-particularly-fun sort of day, dealt with some minor yet negative news, and starting getting down on myself. Then it came: the self-pity party. The “woe is me and my problems!” as my mind started cataloguing all of the negatives in my life, dragging me down to a level where a cloud of apathy and grouchiness took over all. There’s a perverse pleasure in pitying yourself, and expecting that others will share that outlook (after all, misery does love company).
So as I’m sitting at home moaning to my wife about these things, God stung me with a clear prick of conscience. What right do I, ever, have to complain (the answer: I don’t)? How many ways has God blessed me (the answer: tremendously, and almost never-ceasing)? Why am I rolling around in my own worry and fretting and depression when I could be lifting these things up to God and asking Him to pull me back out of this funk (the answer: I have no idea)?
Earlier that day I received an e-mail from a good friend who just found out that she has a large mass – or perhaps a tumor – growing on her lung. As I write this, she’s going into the doctor for tests to see what it is and how they can take care of it. She’s also a single mother of two, she works at a gas station, and she recently had her entire house flooded earlier this year (in Wisconsin). If there’s anyone with a right to self-pity, it’s her, not me. And yet, I never hear a complaining word from her mouth when we talk on the phone.
Self-pity is not in God’s plan for your life. It’s connected to selfishness and worry, two things God abhors, because they draw attention away from Him and onto ourselves. Several Bible characters, including murderer Cain (Genesis 4:4-7) got into a funk of self-pity, and it never led them anywhere productive.
Our family used to live next door to a person we called the “Drama In Real Life Lady” (referencing those Reader’s Digest articles). Every day she’d come over with some new tale of woe, expecting us to take pity on her and let her drag us down emotionally to where she was. We eventually got sick of it, and tired of trying to point her to God and the joy that a Christian life provides. That’s not what I’d ever want to be.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 gives these instructions for the non-self-pitying life: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” Self-pity is not in God’s will; joy, prayer and thanks is. I needed to be reminded of that.