The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘self-pity’ as, “excessive, self-absorbed unhappiness over one’s own troubles”. If there was ever a time for the sin of self-pity to flourish, surely it would be during this covid pandemic. The sad reality is that we are all prone to self pity and so what will help us to avoid sinning in this way?
Before we answer that question it’s good to be clear and say why ‘self-pity’ is a sin. In an article by Abigail Dodds, she explains, “the sin in self-pity is that we assess ourselves and our circumstances as though God is not our gracious Father”. Now of course to have pity isn’t necessarily bad. Pity for others motivated Jesus to heal. To show sympathy and seek understanding are good virtues. However it becomes twisted when it turns inwards so much that as Trevin Wax writes, “it diminishes compassion for others and makes selflessness harder to come by”.
So what’s the antidote?
Now of course there’s no silver bullet but here are some different ways to approach the sin of self-pity.
- Look to God’s pity
The word pity can sometimes get a bad rap. You may have heard or said condescendingly, “I don’t want your pity”. But when it comes to God there is nothing better than to receive God’s pity. Another way to talk about pity is to speak of compassion. And when it comes to our God he saw us in our sorry sinful state and was moved with compassion to bring us forgiveness and freedom from sin’s power.
- Look to Christ’s example
If there was someone who was entitled to self-pity surely that would be Jesus. Sinless in every way and yet he died the death that we deserved. Peter, the apostle, reminds us that even as he suffered, he committed himself to his Father,
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23 NIV11).
- Cultivate a thankful heart
Looking to God’s compassion helps us to cultivate gratitude for him. When we are able to give thanks to God not only for his compassion but for other gifts of his grace then it stops us from believing that God is not good and fuelling our pride to think that we deserve more.
- Lament to God concerning your situation
As I have read the Psalms in my personal bible reading and preached through Micah, I have been reminded how helpful it is to lament. Author Mark Vroegop writes, “Lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust.” He also speaks about how lamenting to God is our way to not only talk to God about our pain but it’s the way in which we can process it.
- Generosity to others
Looking around to others and for opportunities to bless is another antidote to our self-pity. Now, of course, this is difficult to do when under intense suffering and pain but, if we are able to look outside of ourselves to the needs of others, this will hopefully help us to not be seduced by the sin that can rob us of our joy.
Articles on ‘Self-Pity’
Articles on ‘Lament’