I had an interesting text conversation with a friend this week. We were both in agreement that life is awesome and beautiful, but also filled with icky and way-too-difficult stuff. Some of it seems to just be handed to us, like, “Here you go, good luck buddy!” Other parts are things we bring on ourselves. Regardless of the source, I’m convinced that how we respond to all of it is what shapes our life.
My life isn’t defined by what happens to me, but how I respond to it.
Then I texted something clever like, “My response is my responsibility” and I chuckled a little in the quiet of my living room, proud of my cleverness.
Full disclosure: I haven’t been the best at finding the healthiest responses to my life’s circumstances. One of my go-to responses has been self-pity—feeling sorry for myself. Playing the victim. Why me? What’s wrong with me? Why is my life soooo hard?
It feels so good for a while. Until it doesn’t.
Then I admitted something to my friend: “I thought self-pity was just me being self-aware. But it was killing me.”
We both commiserated about how feeling sorry for ourselves can be such an incredible waste of time. Then I said,
“I’m glad I know that feeling though.”
He answered, “How so? Like, glad to know I ain’t going back there?”
My heart sank a little, cause I’ve lived most of my life believing that life with God was always supposed to be a before and after kind of scenario. “I once was lost, but now I’m found.” “I was sick, but now I’m healed.” “I once struggled with _____, but now I don’t.” And then the audience cheers.
But me, and everyone I’ve ever known who has been honest with me, would agree that life with God isn’t like this. Yes, some great healings happen. Some people experience miraculous victories. But nothing is guaranteed. The only thing that seems to be guaranteed is that we are always going to have extremely difficult struggles as long as we’re alive.
Why am I glad to know the feelings of self-pity, hopelessness, depression?
I told my friend, “I’m glad to know that when I do go back there I know it’s possible to come out of it. And that when others are there I know they aren’t crazy. Or hopeless.”
“Amen,” he replied."
“The worst feeling,” I added, is when you feel like you’re never coming out of it. I know that feeling.”
But I am still here. And so are you. And that’s a really, really good thing.
I have emerged out of these dark places many times over my life, and the one thing that’s consistent is that I can’t orchestrate how or when I get through it. It’s a bit like waiting in the tomb for your own resurrection.
I was sitting in church one morning while I was in one of these depressive periods. Nothing was said or sung from the front of the church that woke me up. There was actually nothing going on. But it was as if God reached out through the sacred hollow of the sanctuary and said, “You’ve made self-pity an idol. It’s time to set it down.”
The word “idol” knocked me over. Thou shalt have no other idols before me.
I wasn’t immediately fixed, but that awakening allowed me see more clearly the fruitlessness of my choice to feel sorry for myself. And then I could start making other choices, hopefully better ones.
This is life. Life is beautiful and horrible. We get to create the story of our lives by choosing to respond to everything that happens around and in us in ways that are loving and life-giving to ourselves and others. Learning how to do this is the path of wisdom, which I’m so grateful to be on with you.
We’re in this together.
You are not alone.
And you are deeply loved.
Having meaningful conversations is one of my most favorite parts of life. That’s why I decided to start recording some of them, and let you in on it. My new Conversation Series is called “Saving My Faith” and it’s all about focusing on the really good stuff about Christianity. You can listen here on my site or wherever you listen to podcasts (e.g. Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, etc.). Here are some direct links to the first couple of conversations I’ve released.
Krispin Mayfield - a brilliant therapist and author - we talked about attachment styles we learn as children and how that affects how we relate to God (as found in his brilliant book Attached to God). We ended up focused on how much God loves us and understands the stuff in our hearts, especially if we’ve been hurt by our church experiences. A two-parter! Listen here —>
Josh Scott (another brilliant mind) a pastor in Nashville - I wanted to talk straight with a pastor of what’s called a “Progressive” church and find out why people think he’s so heretical for being so loving and affirming of all people. If you ever have been told that you’re broken, or there’s something wrong with you, this one’s for you. Listen here—>
What are some topics you’d like to have me explore? What are some questions you might have that I could investigate? I’d love to hear from you! Thanks!!
Thanks for sharing this. I like the fact that you admit real struggles. I appreciate when you said God said let the idol of self pity go. Don't have more to say now other than a sister is out here listening and appreciating your honesty.
Self pity being an idol of the heart is insightful. For me, it would be my pessimism or despair. (Exact opposite of hope!!)
I am inspired now to check myself when my auto response is negativity and despair, not because it is bad for my health and relationships but because it is idolatry to the Lord.