Have pity on me! Have pity on me, oh my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! Job 19:21 NRSV
Oh, Job, I know how you feel!
I am writing this devotion at 4:30 in the morning. I can’t sleep, which, if you know me at all, is wildly out of character. I’ve been sleeping poorly for a while now – bad dreams, restlessness, worry. It truly is uncharacteristic of me. I’m not a natural worrier, and am usually one of those people who could sleep though a bomb raid.
Recently, however, I’ve been experiencing some serious professional setbacks which are largely out of my control and not at all of my own making. It’s left me feeling vulnerable, impotent, insecure about my future, and frankly a bit lost.
Another thing you should know about me is that I am unceasingly optimistic. I am resilient to a fault, and almost nothing gets me down. But last week I had one of the lowest days I think I’ve ever experienced. I felt helpless, disillusioned, and entirely sorry for myself… and I kind of liked it.
You see, self-pity is, at its core, an indulgence. It allows us to curl up in a little cocoon of self-centeredness and feel justified about it. When you’re feeling sorry for yourself, you’re only thinking of yourself. And why shouldn’t you? Your life is so bad, your troubles so great, your funds so low, your marriage so broken, your future so bleak, that no one else on earth has ever experienced the suffering you have, and could absolutely never have experienced anything worse… right?
Well Job probably had it worse. You see, God allowed him to be directly targeted and tried by Satan. He lost all of his livelihood, all of his children, and all of his health all at once. His wife practically abandoned him in his grief and the few friends who came to comfort him ended up telling him he must have done something to deserve this suffering… so he begged them to pity him as he was pitying himself. As it turns out Job handled his trials pretty well (or at least better than most of us probably would under the same circumstances), however God still spends several chapters rebuking Job and putting him in his place.
But why? Job had it hard. He lost everything. Shouldn’t he at least be allowed to feel sorry for himself? Why would a merciful and caring God be so hard on this grieving father?
There is an innate selfishness in discouragement that the sinful human heart (and all human hearts are sinful) craves, and as C.S. Lewis said, “The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first—wanting to be the center—wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race.” Selfishness was and is our original sin, the thing that first separated us from God, and if we are honest with ourselves we realize that it is the true root of all other sins.
Fortunately, I was recently reminded of quote by Stephen King, “Are you sure that self-pity is a luxury you can afford?”
I believe that, as Christians, our answer must always be, “No.” When we commit our lives and souls to Jesus, we commit it to others. A life lived in service to Jesus is a life lived in service to others, which leaves very little time or room for the selfishness involved in the luxury of self-pity.
We have been called to a life far greater than any we could lead in service to ourselves.
If you are experiencing a season of self-pity or self-centered worry, I encourage you first to pray. As Paul advises us,
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 NRSV
Then, get out and volunteer in your community or church, or just find a way to help and focus on someone else. You’ll be too busy doing God’s work to think about yourself.
Jesus forgive us. Most of the time we are far too focused on ourselves. Give us the grace and strength to hand our troubles to You so that our hands are free to do the work You’ve set before us. In Your Name, Amen.