I'm a lousy mother, I thought one morning after a heated discussion with my 16-year-old daughter over a certain video's appropriateness. By lunchtime, I'd replayed our conflict a dozen times. By mid-afternoon, my pity party was full blown: My kids deserve better. Nobody loves me. Everybody hates me. I'm gonna run away.
Most of us throw a pity party at least once in our lifetime. Sometimes it begins when a relationship crumbles. Sometimes it starts when we compare our assets, appearance, or abilities to others' and feel inadequate or less fortunate.
Before long, joy dissipates like helium from a balloon. Ministry becomes a chore; Bible reading and prayer, a drudgery. Personal relationships suffer. Is this how God wants his daughters to live? Not a chance.
Instead, his plans for us include joy and peace. I'm not talking about giddy giggles when things go well; I mean genuine joy that bubbles from the soul and crashes pity parties before they get rolling.
The Old Testament contains a story about a man who had every reason to throw a pity party, but he refused to do so. His account proves it's possible to cancel the party before it begins.
The Ultimate Party Pooper
Meet Jobthe greatest pity-party pooper of all time. Scripture describes him as blameless and upright. He feared God, shunned evil, and bore a reputation as the greatest man among all the people of the East (Job 1:1, 3). But one day, circumstances souredhe lost oxen, donkeys, sheep, servants, camels, and worst of all, his ten children.
Job grieved, as would any normal person facing unspeakable loss. But his attitude set him apart. As life caved in, he fell on his face in worship and said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised" (Job 1:20-21). Is that amazing, or what?
Like Job, we can rise above self-pity, no matter what our situation. When we're tempted to throw a pity party, we can use these four points to check our perspective:
1. Focus on God's Word.
Circumstances change, but God's Word remains the same. Its truths overcome worry and feartwo culprits responsible for pity parties.
In 1989, 30-year-old Jan Turner was her church's music minister. She also taught music and fifth grade at a Christian school and was a single mom raising two adopted boys, ages four and ten.
Then pneumococcal pneumonia invaded Jan's body. Within hours she slipped into a coma and for two weeks hovered between life and death. Due to lack of circulation, her limbs were amputated. Jan had to learn how to walk, eat, dress, drive, and cook using prosthetics.
Throughout her ordeal, Jan clung to Romans 8:28-39. She reminded herself nothing could separate her from God's love, and in him, she was more than a conqueror.
Today, Jan, 44, is an ordained minister, part-time radio announcer, and substitute teacher at a local high school. When she shares her testimony, she tells listeners, "Gaze at the promises, glance at the problems. God will always see us through."
2. Focus on God's character.
When my friend Betty moved to another city, she hoped to buy a particular house surrounded by lush greenery, much like her former location. That didn't happen. The house she eventually purchased faced desertlike scenery, and homesickness set in.
Losing sight of God's character, she focused on her circumstances. Life lost its joy. Disappointment overwhelmed her. She expressed her frustration to anyone willing to listen.
Nine months after Betty's move, a forest fire consumed nearly every house in the neighborhood where she'd hoped to buy. Suddenly she realized that a merciful, all-wise God had been working on her behalf all the while.
"I acted like a child stomping my foot and saying, 'I want to live there and I don't want the answer to be no,'" admits Betty in retrospect. "But God graphically showed me how he protected me from my wants."
Betty discovered that focusing on circumstances yields discouragement, anger, and bitterness. But focusing on God's character, even when we don't understand or necessarily like his ways, builds confidence, joy, and peace.
3. Focus on obedience.
In her book A Heart Like His, author Rebecca Manley Pippert writes, "As we learn to rely upon the truth of the Bible, it becomes a moral compass in a confusing, unstable, and often scary world. Scripture not only guides us into orthodoxy (right thinking), but also into orthopraxis (right living). Our obedience to God's Word will keep us steady in the worst of times."
But sometimes it's easier to throw a pity party than to obey commands in Scripture such as "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Believe me, I've been there.
After high-school graduation, my daughter, Stephanie, made plans to attend college nearly 1,000 miles from home. Rather than put her on a plane, I chose to drive her to school, hoping to create a lasting mother-daughter memory.
I created a memory alright, but not the kind I'd hoped for. Our car's transmission blew before we left town! We drove home in a loaner car, sporting a $3,600 repair bill.
Sleep evaded me that night as I stewed over the unwelcome turn of events. Poor me. Things never work out the way I want. You hung me out to dry this time, God. All the while, a familiar Scripture ran through my mind: "Give thanks in all circumstances." I tried ignoring it, to no use. Giving thanks was the last thing I felt like doing, but I knew it was right.
When I finally confessed my disobedience and began thanking God for his control over the situation, peace replaced frustration and contentment replaced self-pity.
4. Focus on others' needs.
Discouragement tends to stop us from carrying others' burdens, writes author David Jeremiah in Slaying the Giants in Your Life. "It sends us inward, where pity parties are common and perspective is rare. How often I've forgotten my own little worries when I've been busy calling on someone who was sick, or making rounds at the hospital. Going in, I've told God that I had nothing to give these people; coming out, I've felt abundantly blessed." For years, an elderly woman in my hometown cared for her grown daughter, who had a crippling disease. Then the woman lost her husband to cancer. On the morning she buried her spouse, she looked beyond her needs and phoned my elderly mother to check on her well-being.
Her example encourages me to look beyond my problems and bear others' burdens through prayer and practical aid. Does a single mom need a break? I can baby-sit. Does a less fortunate family need food? I can offer resources. Personal pity parties lose their appeal when I focus on others' needs.
Pity parties negatively impact our relationship with God, impair our interactions with others, and cause us to become self-absorbed.
Though I've thrown several pity parties in the past, I now know a better way to spend my timecelebrating God's faithfulness, love, and control over my life.
Celebrate life with these activities instead:
- List ten things for which you're thankful.
- Take a walk and pray for others along the way.
- Serve at a soup kitchen.
- Fill your home with upbeat worship music or hymns.
- Sip a cup of herbal tea while reading a good book.
- Open the drapes and let sunshine flood your home.
- Watch a funny movie with someone.G.F.
Grace Fox is a freelance writer who lives in British Columbia.
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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September/October 2006, Vol. 28, No. 5, Page 32