James 1:2 “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds.”
How do you consider it pure joy when everything’s going wrong?
The opposite of God’s command in James 1:2 is a deadly spiritual disease called self-pity. God says consider trials pure joy; self-pity says consider them pure misery.
When you fixate on the pain in your life, you blind yourself to God’s kindness. You become like a lawyer building a case for how hard you have it. “This happened to me, and then this, then this, my car broke down, stubbed my toe ….” Why the list? You’re building a case.
And to make that case, you make much of the supporting evidence and ignore counterevidence. You focus your thoughts on everything that’s hard, unfair, and painful, and you ignore blessings on your life that would spoil your argument. Who’s going to feel sorry for you if you talk about three things that went wrong along with thirty good gifts from God?
Self-pity holds God’s kindness at arm’s length. Someone points out a blessing, and your instant response is, “Yeah, but…” and you turn right back to the negative.
This is why when someone is wrapped up in self-pity, you can’t cheer him up by pointing out blessings. He won’t let thoughts of God’s kindness sink into his heart because that would weaken his “woe is me” case.
We need joy to fuel our lives. It’s what keeps you going. So the Lord provides streams and tributaries of happiness to pour continually into your heart from his blessings. Self-pity dams them up. It lets in every painful thing while filtering out anything that would bring happiness. Then it magnifies those painful things.
Once your orientation is locked into a focus on the negative, it doesn’t matter how many blessings God sends your way. Each one will be rebuffed by the impenetrable happiness-blocking shield of self-pity. Self-pity refuses to be comforted. It rejects God’s kindness.
How could a person who receives thousands of gifts from God every day believe “everything” is going wrong? How could someone who enjoys eternal salvation and forgiveness of sins have no joyful gratitude? Only by willful blindness to all God’s gestures of love.
How Would You Feel?
Put yourself in God’s shoes. How would you feel if you showered gifts on your child every day and he kept holding those gifts at arm’s length and then complained to everyone that you never gave him anything? Would you want your children to reject your love because they didn’t feel they deserved it?
It’s a Lie
Wallowing in self-pity is not only a rejection of God’s love, it’s also a lie. When we pretend we’re receiving only hardship and no grace, we’re lying about God, we’re lying to God, and we’re lying to ourselves.
When we say, “Everything is going wrong,” that’s false. Everything is only going wrong if you don’t count all the thousands of things that are going well. And why would you ignore those? Especially when they are all gestures of God’s love designed to bring you joy?
The Fruit of Self-Pity
· Drowning in Your Troubles
The result of self-pity is pretty easy to predict. Depression. At the beginnings of self-pity, you can decide, “Okay, enough of this. I’m going to focus on the blessings” and it works. But if you wait too long, you can drop into a hole of discouragement so deep there’s no way out. It feels like you’re drowning in your troubles.
But it’s not really your troubles that are overwhelming you. In fact, it’s not a suffering problem at all. It’s an interpretation problem.
Instead of interpreting trials as good things sent from God to change you, you see them as bad things sent to destroy you. Rather than seeing God’s purposes in those trials as big and the trials themselves as small, the perspective is reversed. Only the bad part matters to you. The hardship, the pain, and human fault captivate your imagination, leaving no room for thoughts of what God is doing.
If this continues long enough, something snaps and you suffer what the world calls a nervous breakdown.
But as usual, the world’s labels are unhelpful. The problem isn’t with your nerves. What broke down was your will. Your steadfastness and perseverance. Your resistance to defeat. There comes a point where your will lays down its shield and yields to every defeating attitude. “This is too much from me. I can’t take anymore. I’m done.”
This happens when we don’t exercise our perseverance muscle on the small things. We live a spiritually sedentary lifestyle and our perseverance grows weaker and atrophies.
Without strong perseverance, the storms of life toss you like rag doll. The winds of hardship might blow you into panic attacks, depression, fits of anger, or withdrawal. No wonder James tells us to consider it pure joy when something happens that can strengthen our perseverance!
hard to Give Up
Self-pity is not your friend. It will do nothing for you. Fight it.
And it is a fight, to be sure. Letting go of self-pity is hard,–which is baffling. Why would it be hard to give up something that makes you miserable? It makes no sense, but there is something in us that clings tenaciously to self-pity.
Maybe it’s because we want people to feel sorry for us. Or we want to use our trouble-filled life as an excuse for some indulgence we think we deserve. Or even to justify our anger at God.
Whatever we think we might gain from self-pity, it’s nothing compared to what we lose. If you want compassion, seek it from God. He’s the only one who understands what you’re going through anyway. Self-pity is miserable. Gratitude feels great.
Keep your finger on the pulse of your orientation today—which way you’re facing. Face your troubles only when necessary. The rest of the time, keep your back to your problems and square your shoulders in the direction of God’s kindness. Fix your attention on all the gifts he has been showering you with today. Each time you’re tempted to grumble in your heart, stop and consider God’s kindness. Consider it deeply. And keep thinking about it until a spark of real, heartfelt, joyful gratitude arises.
For two podcast episodes on overcoming self-pity, click here and here.