Is it good to have compassion for others? Certainly. Is it okay to be kind to the weak and show mercy to the remorseful? Definitely!
But, is it right to be compassionate, kind and merciful toward yourself? Showing others compassion is a noble trait, but somehow being kind and patient with ourselves is considered a weakness.
Yet, the Psalms contain the groans of godly people who cared about their condition (Psalm 13:1). Jesus tells you to “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “treat others as you want to be treated” (Matt. 22:39; Luke 6:31). “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.” (Eph. 5:29). This persistent principle is woven in Scripture: To treat others rightly we must have a loving, respectful attitude about ourselves.
However, at some point “self-concern” becomes “self-centeredness.” Life’s pains drive us inward into a universe that contains only ourselves. We all experience sorrow in life and sadness is a normal, healthy emotion, yet “feeling sorry for ourselves” becomes a lens through which we see only ugliness in our world.
Thankfully, the Bible tells the stories of people who took the path to self-pity, so that we might learn the problems of throwing ourselves a “pity-party.” Amazingly, they weren’t just Biblical villains, but heroes of faith as well!
For example, has your life turned out differently than you hoped? Moses can look you straight in the eye and say, “I’ve been there, my friend.” He had a noble dream to relieve his family’s burden, but his first effort led to his own exile and isolation (Ex. 2:11-15).
His second effort, after being chosen and empowered by God, led to his family’s burden getting worse. So, Moses asked, “Lord, why did you ever send me?” (Ex. 5:22).
Ultimately God rescued his family from bondage only to have them complain incessantly about their “field rations,” on the way to paradise. This is not what Moses hoped for! So, he prays again, “Why have I not found favor in your sight … If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, that I may not see my wretchedness.” (Num. 11:11,15).
Moses is feeling sorry for himself, but thankfully God didn’t let him drown in self-pity. He broke through his gloom with a promise, “I will bring these people out and I’ll make them mine” (Ex. 6:1-13). With God there are no broken dreams, only amazing promises yet to be experienced.
God also told Moses he needed some friends “so that he may not bear the burden alone” (Num. 11:16-30). Pity-parties are broken up by the presence of godly friends. These friends help us regain our energy and refocus our desires on the goodness of serving the Lord.
However, not all our self-pity arises from such honorable roots. Sometimes we whine because we can’t get what we want.
“Charmed are the people who possess,
The life I deserve if I were blessed,
Yet here I am in this intolerable mess!”
That is how the song of sorrow begins. Yet, it is disturbing to realize we are singing a duet with wicked king Ahab!
Ahab offered to buy a beautiful piece of property from a neighbor who was unwilling to sell his family inheritance. This infuriated Ahab. He deserved that land. He was the king, after all! So, he got angry, bitter, isolated and despondent.
Jezebel, his wife, was sick of his sulking and said, “If you want the land, kill your neighbor and take it!” This wicked woman reveals a common way people deal with self-pity: “If my life hurts, I’ll make your life hurt!” A pity-party has a guest-list of one but a hit-list of many. So, Ahab killed his neighbor and took the land.
The moral of the story is, “When you feel sorry for yourself take it out on others and go get what you want!” Not quite. Before Ahab sunk his toes into the fertile soil of his neighbor’s land God sent a message, “You got the land, but I own your soul!” (1 Kings 21:17-24). There is something more important in life than getting what you want.
How unbalanced we can be! A dozen blessings can splash into our lives each day, but just one unfulfilled desire casts a drought on our entire life. We can exaggerate what is missing to such a size we cannot see what is there. So, when you are tempted to feel sorry for yourself be honest enough to admit the good that happens. Add a verse to your song,
“Charmed is the life I possess;
It’s true even when I’m stressed.
It is immeasurable grace to be so blessed”
The darkest of self-pity occurs when we believe God is not doing right. Has the banner at your pity-party ever read, “God is not fair!” “God doesn’t care!” “God didn’t do me right!” The prophet Jonah wrote a few of those banners himself.
God gives Jonah the impressive opportunity to tell an entire nation about the Lord. The problem is Jonah doesn’t want to go because those people are his enemies. He has a sneaking suspicion if the people repent God will relent. “The enemy deserves the sword, not forgiveness,” he thinks.
After a fishy experience Jonah finally preaches, and God forgives. This upsets the prophet. He doesn’t think God did right. Those people were wicked and hurtful. They didn’t deserve mercy. Jonah doesn’t want to live in a world where God is unfair. So, he says, “It is better for me to die than to live!” (Jonah 4:3)
Through the shade of a well-placed plant God taught Jonah a lesson about the greatness of God’s grace. Yes, God is patient with sinners, and the world ticks on with sickness and decay. Yet, God’s protecting, reviving grace is constantly towering over us. Enjoy it!
Did Jesus know the common human experience of “feeling sorry for yourself?” (Certainly not to the point of sin!) Consider how he faced the pain and injustice of the cross he prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt. 26:39). Consider how he felt when his friends didn’t help, “What? Could you not watch with me for one hour?” (Mark 14:37).
Alone, facing an unjust, cruel execution, who could blame him for throwing a full-on pity-party? But he didn’t. Jesus dealt with any feelings of self-pity and we are saved as a result.
Who is waiting to be helped when we stop feeling sorry for ourselves?
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14)
Elijah is on the poster for “feeling sorry for yourself.”
Elijah’s ministry started with such promise. What a rush of adrenaline it was to stand before king Ahab and call him and Israel to repentance. With the courage of a protester he announced it would not rain until they turned.
But the thrill of that moment must have faded in the years ahead when he lived in isolation and exile. He did God’s work, put his neck on the line, and he got loneliness and obscurity—and nobody changed. All that work for nothing!
Years later he got a chance to face Ahab and his idolatrous priests. Again, he courageously stood alone for God. This time God sent fire from heaven and the nation seemed to turn back to the Lord. It was like a great Sunday worship—people on fire for the Lord. But before the day was over Elijah’s cell phone rings…bad news…the queen promises he’ll be dead by sundown tomorrow (1 Kings 19:1). All that work for nothing!
So, Elijah runs and prays, “It is enough; now, O Lord take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). I’m a failure! He goes a little further and says, “Israel has forsaken your covenant and I alone am left, and they seek to take my life” (1 Kings 19:10). “I’ve done all this work for nothing!”
God was tender with his prophet. First, he tells him to rest, then eat. Then, God tells him to get away to a mountain where they could talk. There on the mountain Elijah saw and heard the glory of God. He was not alone. The God who ruled the thunder, earth and wind was with him. Next, God sent Elijah on mission to do meaningful work. Finally, God gave him a friend to share the load (Elisha).
If you’ve ever thought, “I’ve done all this work for nothing!” Elijah felt the same way, and there is a way out.
Moses: Unfulfilled Dreams
Elijah: Useless Labor
Ahab: Unmet Desires
Jonah: Disappointed (unhappy) with God
I think it is accurate to say that even Jesus knew the common human experience of “feeling sorry for himself.” Oh, not to the point of sin! But he knew the personal sorrow, “Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me,” (Matt. 26:39)
They listen and help us see the good in life when things turn out differently than we hoped.
Life rarely turns out as you hoped, and you can feel sorry for yourself. Thankfully God didn’t let Moses drown in self-pity.
Sometimes we see God’s grace toward others, and we feel sorry for ourselves. fail to see God’s protecting, reviving grace is towering over us.
Just then, God caused a plant to spring up and shade the gloomy prophet from the sun. Just as quickly the plant withered, and the sun’s blistering rays returned.
After all, if God is against you what hope do you have? Jonah
“Feeling sorry for ourselves” is a common experience, but it is not a healthy one.
However, dwelling on your troubles can be self-destructive.
In its absence cruelty festers in your heart and spills out in hurtful words and actions.
Cruelty festers in the heart of the person who lacks self-respect.
The person who hates themselves strikes with the worst cruelty.