Tag Archives: self-pity

23: Sulking in the Sun

23 sulking in the sun MF imelenchon

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” Jonah 4:9 NIV (But please do read the whole of chapter four if you have time.)

 

So, having explored what self-pity is not, in my last few entries, I wanted to try and give an example of what it actually is occurring in Scripture, and poor old Jonah is the victim I’ve picked. Now I am quite an expert on self-pity, having mastered it slowly over a number of years and then having been (mostly) released from it.

I can recognise now that the hallmarks of self-pity are that it is prolonged (though we often dip in and out of it), that it becomes an attitude we live by, that it is almost entirely self-centred, that it smacks of an attitude of entitlement or of self-loathing, and that it twists the facts cleverly to make everything look as though we are at the centre of a vortex of unfairness.

In short, self-pity is permanent sulking. It is our ego throwing a toddler tantrum every time something doesn’t go our way and imagining rightly or wrongly that the world is out to get us. It is all encompassing and often even manages to defy logic. We have persuaded ourselves somewhere deep inside that nothing can go right for us and that the world is not giving us the fair deal we deserve.

Jonah is the daddy of all sulkers. He sulks himself onto a ship, he sulks himself into being thrown overboard and after being rescued miraculously and performing his prophetic duty like a pro, then reverts back to sulking, even about the success of his mission. I told you this is what would happen! is the gist of what he says to God, in one of my all-time favourite Bible verses: “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:2-3 partial NIV)

Jonah is such a practised sulker, he can even take offence at God’s goodness whilst praising him for it. And even though he knows that the city will be spared, he still storms off and sits in the desert “to see what will happen”. He was sent to Nineveh to ask the people to repent and they did. Instead of outward compassion, Jonah displays the giveaway characteristic of someone stuck in the rut of self-pity: he turns even his own successes into failures. Believing that the Lord relenting makes him look foolish is more important to him than thousands being saved from death. This is an ego in extremis. And yet, I have great sympathy for Jonah. I relate to his sufferings, so much so I even wrote a short book about him (yet to be published).

But the thing that lifts my heart about Jonah is, that even sitting in the sun sulking, God is patiently trying to teach him compassion via the lesson of the plant he sends and then withers. The Lord is trying to show him a way out, trying to help him understand the heart of the God he serves, which, (another mark of self-pity) actually Jonah already knows, and judging from the verses I quoted, better than most. He is just choosing anger over compassion because it is easier, because it is ingrained and because his own heart isn’t ready yet to be freed from the stranglehold of ego. The only thing that can perform that kind of often slow emotional and spiritual surgery is love, and God is there with him and us, writing the book on it.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

22: Target Practice

bummerbirthmark

Will you never look away from me,

or let me alone even for an instant?

If I have sinned, what have I done to you,

you who see everything we do?

Why have you made me your target?

Have I become a burden to you?” Job 7: 19-20 NIV

 

When Job speaks these words he is beyond rock bottom. He’s had everything suddenly taken away from him: his children; servants; livestock; livelihood; reputation; health. He has nothing left but his God, so he speaks out his anguish. The truly amazing thing about Job is that he never curses the Lord, despite even his wife advising him to. He only asks why, because the wisdom that has been handed down to him says that disaster has befallen him as a punishment, and yet he knows that he has not sinned. Even the religion that he has practiced all his days is no comfort to him, it makes no sense in the face of his huge suffering. All he has left is what he knows in his heart, that God must be good.

He is hurting and broken and sick, and wants to be left alone. He wants God to avert his eyes and let him die. No wonder he feels that God is using him for target practice. He wants the pain to end, he wants to crawl into a hole and be done with life.

As with Micah yesterday, I want to point out that this is not self pity. It is a normal, reasonable, grief-stricken reaction from Job to what is happening to him. It should pull at all the heartstrings of our compassion and make us want to come and sit silently on his dung heap with him and help him keep the vigil of tears and outrage and broken-heartedness. Instead of which of course, Job is visited by friends who do not know the value of silence or understand his suffering. More on that another day.

The feeling of being targeted is a horrible one. We can be targets for bullying, insults, mockery, lies, abuse, perjury, theft and assaults of all kinds. When these things happen we too might want to crawl away and hide, even from the eyes of God. But as the psalmist tells us (Psalm 139), and as God declares to Jeremiah, there is nowhere where this is possible. “Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.(Jeremiah 23:24 NIV)

The answer to Job’s first question is that God will not leave him alone. God never leaves us alone or turns his eyes away, despite all the times it might feel this way. The difference between wanting to hide from God and wanting to be his dwelling place is really one of trust. None of Job’s questions are answered the way he (and we) want them to be. For the answer is not theology, not a detailed explanation of why suffering exists or why it is visited on some of us in bucketloads, nor does God present Job with a neatly packaged understanding of his own life and its errors and hardships. No, God’s answer is not explanation, but encounter. He shows Job who he is. It is, perhaps strangely to us, all he needs. It makes sense to me that seeing, hearing and experiencing God’s majestic goodness leaves us able to trust him, and live without those reasoned, helpful answers that we long for. God’s presence is overwhelmingly enough and more, and it shows Job that he is a target only for the love, faithfulness and mystery of God and his holiness.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Cartoon by Gary Larson, which I had to use, as it fits so well, but I’ve no idea where to apply for permission, since his work is so successful all over the net, I will hope to be forgiven this once. If you haven’t come across him, do check out his work, he is my favourite cartoonist ever. 🙂

21: Woe is Me!

21 woe jentsoi MF

Woe is me! For I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered, as when the grapes have been gleaned: there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fig that my soul desires.” Micah 7:1 ESV

Are you waiting for something, searching for something, unable to find it? Have you been praying for relief and none comes, that elusive hope dulled and despair taking its place? What a perfect description of such despair this verse in Micah is! All the good grapes are gone and the poor have been in to take the leavings, so that as you arrive there is not one left. As you come along hunting for that one good thing, there is nothing. Everyone else, it seems, has had what you wanted and there is none left for you.

This is how we feel when we are poor, and those around us are buying new things and having holidays. This is how we feel when everyone else has a job and we have been unemployed for a long time; unwanted and marked out for misery. This is how we feel when all our college friends seem to have their next steps and careers all worked out and we are drifting in a fog of unknowing. This is how we feel when a friend is having her fourth child and none came along for us, and we feel this despite our joy for them. It is not jealousy, but it is like we are the opposite of special. Like we and all our hopes have been cast off into the dust, and not one of the things we were hoping for have shown up.

Unkind people will call such feelings a “pity party”, and tell us to “pull our socks up” and that we have “first world problems”, or that there are “plenty of people worse off” than we are. Oh, how I loathe those phrases! Sometimes, especially with good reason or when we are low or suffering from depression, it is good and healthy and okay to say, “Woe is me!” The Psalms are absolutely full of such honesty. God values it and hears us and he does not tell us to shut up and count our blessings or pull ourselves together. He is all compassion and understanding. At such times I am sure he longs to gather us to himself “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,” (Matthew 23:37 partial, NIV).

Here’s a little thing I have learned over some difficult decades: suffering is personal. It is not relative. It cannot be compared. My pain is my pain and yours is yours. There is no measuring stick. You feel what you feel. And today the love of my life is incredibly down and he is hurting, and nothing I can do can make it better, and our finances just got dealt another unkind blow, and so I say, “Woe is me!” and it’s okay. Such outbursts need to be short-lived of course, else they can fester and lead to self-pity, with manifestations across the spectrum of pride, from entitlement to self-loathing.   But self-compassion, cried out and genuine, can be related to as good emotional sense and spiritual honesty, leading us back to our own helplessness and to the feet of the source of all true help. And God hears, and he hurts with us, and his company is good to have at such a time.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com