A Day In The Pool (of self-pity)

3 05 2011

The Bible doesn’t let you get away with anything; anything hypocritical that is; this is what I am learning. The minute I say, “I’m good,” God’s Word has an uncanny way of showing me where I am not. This is one of the things that bugs people. They want to hear they are good. I am here to say, it is actually quite freeing when you come to embrace the fact that you aren’t because it leaves a lot of room for improvement. When you realize you aren’t good, but you want to be, you don’t resent help. Not that I am there yet, because quite often I still think I am good, and think God should move on down the road to point out someone else’s issues.

Take pride. It is easy to look at the word “pride” and say: “I am not prideful. Look at me,” one could say, “Look at my world, what do I have to be prideful about? Everything I could have bragged about is no longer in my possession; I have been humbled. In the area of pride, I’m good.”

Not so fast, says John Piper. I am reading John Piper’s book “What God Demands From The World.” I am reading a little chapter a day because it is enough to chew on. The chapter on pride/humility is a killer.

Piper states the obvious: “The root of hypocrisy is pride” (125), which you probably already know. But try this one on:

Boasting is the response of pride to success. Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering. Boasting says, “I deserve admiration because I have achieved so much.” Self-pity says, “I deserve admiration because I have sacrificed so much.”

Piper goes on to say that we don’t think of self-pity as pride because it “appears to be needy. But the need arises from a wounded ego…” (126). Self-pity calls attention to itself: “It is the response of unapplauded pride” (126). This kind of pride that sets itself up as self-deserving, “the sense that one deserves something good from God” (127).

This chapter really stopped me in my tracks because I have never thought of self-pity in terms of pride. Hm, self-pity is an act of pride is it? And it made me think of the tipping point (and would I recognize it?) where feeling legitimate hurt now crosses over to nursing pride in my life through self-pity.

Here is more of what Piper says that pride is multi-layered:

At the bottom of it is a complex disposition of self-rule, merit, and pleasure in feeling superior to others…

Pride is actually defiance against God, it is the feeling that we deserve better treatment, and it delights feeling above others. Yet none of these are blatantly obvious when pride comes in the form of self-pity:

A person can seem to feel unworthy by constantly deprecating himself in public, but all the while feel angry that others do not recognize this as a virtue. (126)

Piper says, “There are a hundred ways pride positions itself” (128) and the issue always comes down to what you love. Pride always seeks attention either because it displays itself as being “great” or through displaying “self-pity” as a means of being honored or sympathized with.

So we are taught not to brag, not to show-off, not to self-promote…all these things, but what about the flip side. What about the sob story, what about our tales of woe, what about our quiet and supposed “self-sacrifice” that we are hoping others will notice? Wow, is it hard to be pure. Piper says pride demonstrated through self-pity doesn’t “lift a finger to show the repentant sinner how Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light…because they do not experience it as easy and light…if it were easy and light, where would be the boasting?” (128)

Humility and servanthood are tied together for this reason. Humility leads to “joyful readiness to do lowly service” with a childlike trust in God’s grace. Childlike trust keeps us from complaining, from drawing attention to ourselves through our complaints. It removes trust from ourselves and happily assumes the position of unworthy servants. Piper points out that it changes our mind about what we are in the middle of, that everything we receive from God is a mercy: “The joy of the humble does not reside in being deserving, but in receiving mercy” (129).

I think when we begin to ask ourselves questions about what in our life smacks of the pride of self-pity we will put on the table our hurts and say, “what about that?” and instead of wallowing in it and enjoying what it gets us, we will instead seek actual healing. I think we will not want to rehearse our pain. I think we will not want to carry resentments. I think we will not want to find sympathy for what we feel was so undeserved. I think we will seek in earnest to deal with our bruises and then ask for further instructions which might sound an awful lot like, “Now get on with it.”

Sometimes I haven’t known what to do with wounds, and like physical wounds some have just gotten infected, I think. Emotionally, I see, that infection can look like bitterness — that one I have been aware of — but self-pity is something I need to think more about. I know its not just a matter of saying, “buck up” and “forget about it.” No, it has to be more thorough then that, and I have to approach those realities more as a child before my Father, then as a grown-up muscling through.

Changing our thinking means we need to, once again, change our position. We need to change our position from thinking about what we “deserve” to what we owe.

Jesus says in Luke 17:10, “When you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”

— Teresa Klassen

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