Saying Goodbye to Self-Pity
By LESLIE LUDY
Eric’s grandmother, who died before he was born, had an incredible secret for maintaining a joyful attitude as a young wife and mother. Whenever she was feeling down because of various challenging circumstances in her life, she made the choice to find someone who was far worse off than she was, and serve them in some practical way. Every time she did this, the act of taking her eyes off herself and her own troubles worked wonders for her attitude and perspective. Because she refused to allow self-pity to control her, she experienced the amazing freedom of living with consistent joy.
I have often reflected upon that story whenever I’m battling a serious case of “blah-ness.” When the house is a mess, the kids’ behavior has gone south, ministry stress is mounting, and it seems like I will never “get on top of things” again, my emotions can easily take a downward spiral. If I’m not on my guard, I can end up throwing myself one big pity party and playing the “woe is me” game all day long. The last thing I feel like doing is turning outward and energetically serving others, because I’m far too busy nursing discouragement over my own circumstances.
But I’ve learned that personal pity parties are toxic to our family environment and dangerous to my soul. God doesn’t want me to play the victim to discouragement and self-pity. Rather, Christ’s work on the Cross has provided everything I need spiritually in order to rise above those things, in His amazing strength and not my own. By His grace, I can deliberately choose a joyful, triumphant attitude no matter how loudly my circumstances or emotions may be screaming otherwise. When I call upon Him in faith, His power equips me to do what I could never do on my own.
Choosing a joyful, triumphant attitude is not merely an option or suggestion from the Bible. Rather, it is God’s perfect will for us: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thes. 5:18). Psalm 113:9 says that God desires to build a woman into a “joyful mother of children.” That means that in God’s pattern, there is so much more to motherhood than just trudging through the motions of running a home and raising kids. Whenever I resort to “motherhood survival” instead of “motherhood joy,” I know I’ve fallen short of God’s perfect pattern.
There are plenty of reasons why today’s mothers often feel like victims to discouragement and self-pity. Our culture constantly tells us, “You poor thing — your life is so hard, it’s okay for you to be miserable and burned-out!” Very rarely are we encouraged to say no to self-pity or to “rise up in the strength of God and resolve to conquer” as Catherine Booth once said. When we are feeling down or discouraged, not many people will exhort us to take our eyes off ourselves and joyfully serve others like Eric’s grandmother did. Living in a culture that excuses and even promotes self-pity, it is easy to believe that we have justifiable reasons for wallowing in a “woe is me” state of mind. (*Please note that I am not referring to medical conditions such as clinical or postpartum depression, but rather to the periodic “emotional blah-ness” that moms often deal with due to the challenges of raising small children!)
No matter how unique or difficult our particular circumstances may seem, we must remember there is no situation that the power of the Cross cannot permeate and transform, and there is no wound that His cleansing blood cannot heal, and no situation in which the joy of the Lord cannot be our strength. In fact, the more extreme the circumstances, the more opportunity for His supernatural grace to be demonstrated in all its life-changing power.
Throughout Christian history, the Gospel has spread like wildfire whenever the most destitute and notorious people have been radically changed by its power. In all the great revivals, people were drawn to the Gospel when they saw alcoholics forsake their addictions and prostitutes begin to live in purity. If the message of the Cross can offer such freedom, joy, and triumph for people like this, can it not do the same for us?
Personally, it has not been the times when things have been easy that I have felt the most impact of God’s Truth in my life, but when things have been the most difficult. As a friend of Amy Carmichael pointed out, “Faith has nothing to do with circumstances. It deals entirely with the Word of God.” As you are contemplating the set-apart, victorious, triumphant Christian life that God has called you to, beware of an attitude that says, “But my situation is different. I can’t experience that kind of joy because…”
Even if you don’t sense immediate joy in the midst of your difficult circumstances, that doesn’t mean God doesn’t intend to give it to you. No matter how frustrating your parenting may feel, or how overwhelming your task list may seem, make the deliberate choice to cut off self-pity before it starts. Ask God to fill you with His supernatural joy. As you choose His pattern (motherhood joy) over the pattern of this world (motherhood survival) you will soon be able to declare along with Paul, “Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ” (2 Cor. 2:14a, emphasis added).
Here are a few practical ways I’ve been learning to put this principle into practice:
1. Put Emotions in their Place
Becoming a joyful mother begins with a choice, not a feeling. I often have to remind myself that choosing a joyful attitude and feeling happy emotions are two very different things. I’ve learned that I cannot wait for my emotions to cooperate before taking the step to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Rather, I must first choose to obey God no matter how I’m feeling, and then my emotions will follow suit.
Corrie ten Boom tells the story of meeting one of the men who had been responsible for her sister’s death — years after she and Betsie suffered terribly in a Nazi prison camp. One of the cruelest guards had come to hear her speak in a church. He did not recognize her, but she certainly recognized him. He told her how much her message meant to him and that it gave him hope that God could forgive him for all the evil he had done in his life. And then he reached out to shake her hand in friendship and thanks. As he extended his hand to her, she felt frozen to the spot. How could she show friendship and forgiveness to one who had shown such cruelty to her and her family? She told God, “I will take the step of showing forgiveness to him but You must supply the feeling.” Mechanically, she lifted her hand to shake the man’s hand. As soon as she did, she was flooded with a warmth, love, and care for this man that only God could have supplied.
Motherhood joy is much the same. We can’t consult our emotions or wait for the warm, fuzzy feelings to come before we obey God and choose to embrace the supernatural joy that He offers. Rather, like Eric’s grandmother we must make a choice to walk in God’s pattern whether we feel like it or not; to tune out the “woe is me” voice and refuse to let self-pity rule our lives. Inevitably, when we take this step of obedience, our emotions will align themselves with truth. Even if the feelings don’t come right away, we can rest confidently in the fact that as we choose to obey God, He will supply everything else we need — including the right feelings!
2. Don’t Postpone Happiness
It’s easy for Christian women to “postpone our happiness” until certain things finally fall into place. When we are single, we are often tempted to think, “I’ll be truly happy once I finally meet my husband.” When we are married with children we are often tempted to reason, “I’ll be truly happy once my husband finally becomes more sensitive to me, or when my kids finally start behaving better.”
But whenever I catch myself thinking, If only such-and-such could finally happen, I would have real joy, that’s when I know I’ve lost sight of Jesus Christ, because when my eyes are fixed squarely upon the Person of Jesus Christ, I know that I have everything I need right now for joy, peace, happiness, and fulfillment, no matter what my circumstances and no matter what challenges I might be facing in my mothering. There isn’t a need He cannot meet. There isn’t a problem He cannot solve. There isn’t a void He cannot fulfill.
When we stop to ponder the amazing, incredible good news of the Gospel, we quickly realize that we have no excuse to postpone happiness until “such-and-such” finally happens. In Jesus, we have everything we need right now for perfect happiness and fulfillment. So live as if every day is the best day of your life — because in Christ, it is!
3. Turn Outward
As Eric’s grandmother discovered, getting your eyes off yourself and your own problems by turning outward and serving others is a wonderful cure for the “motherhood blues.” Though it’s usually the last thing I really want to do when I’m feeling “blah,” it leads to a joyful perspective quicker than almost anything else. Whether I do something special for my husband or children or serve someone in need, taking my eyes off myself and focusing on the needs of others always brings tremendous refreshment to my soul. And when I take time to reach out to someone who is lonely, sick, impoverished, or imprisoned, I gain clearer perspective on my own life. I remember how blessed I really am, and realize that my life is not as hard as the voice of self-pity wants me to believe!
Cultivating an attitude of contentment and gratitude offers true fulfillment, while self-pity only offers misery and dissatisfaction. By God’s grace, may we remember all that Christ has done for us — all that He has given us — and walk in that glorious reality each and every day!