The Heart-Hardening Power of Self-Pity
Self-pity wasn’t the only thing Jonah was feeling, but its presence and effect was unmistakable. We know how he felt because of our own experience. We know that anger, shutting us down emotionally and spiritually. We know that desire to just sulk or lash out against anyone who crosses us.
Self-pity is our sinful, selfish response to something not going the way we think it should. And it’s a subtle sin; we often don’t recognize it right away because it wears the disguise of righteous indignation. We feel justified to indulge it after the injustice we suffered, even if all that happened was we didn’t get our way.
But self-pity is a dangerous, deceitful, heart-hardening sin (Hebrews 3:13). It’s a spiritual deadener, choking faith, draining hope, killing joy, smothering love, fueling anger and robbing any desire to serve others. And it is a feeder-sin, encouraging us to comfort our poor selves with all manner of sinful indulgence like gossip, slander, gluttony, substance abuse, pornography and binge entertainment, just to name a few. Self-pity poisons our relationships and is often an underlying cause of our “burnout.”
Self-pity does us no good whatsoever, even if we’ve suffered a true injustice or bereavement or other evil. It is a closely clinging sin that only weighs us down like an anchor (Hebrews 12:1), so we must jettison it as soon as we recognize it.
Laying Aside the Weight of Self-Pity
There’s no magic formula for laying aside the weight of self-pity. Fighting sin is a martial art. Every response to every attack is at least slightly different. Our best defense is always to be saturated with the Bible, and in particular to keep ourselves refreshed in God’s promises. But as an example, here’s how I recently battled self-pity:
1. Ask God for help (Luke 11:9). Self-pity, like most sins, is an expression of pride. It is typically hard to let go of because we must admit our wrong when we have felt in the right. My self-pity almost always affects someone else, and it is surprisingly hard to admit my wrong to them. I need God’s help.
2. Give yourself some gospel straight-talk. When I feel self-pity, I need to remind myself what I really deserve and what Christ has done for me (Matt 18.21–35″>Matthew 18:21–35), to be content with what I receive from the Lord (Philippians 4:12–19). Essentially, I graciously tell myself to stop being a big, selfish baby.
3. Repent to God for the sin of self-pity (Matthew 3:2). It’s a sin, not merely a “struggle.” It’s to be killed, tossed away.
4. Repent to those affected by your sin of self-pity (James 5:16). Frequently this step of self-humbling is where the hold of self-pity is broken.
5. In faith take the next step God gives you to face what you don’t want to face (Philippians 4:6–7, Philippians 4.9″>9, Philippians 4.19″>19). If you feel self-pity over facing a frightening or unpleasant situation and you feel overwhelmed, do the next thing. God will give you grace to see and take the next step.
If self-pity has become an ingrained habit over a long time, freedom can be yours in Christ, but only through the constant practice of laying aside this sin (Hebrews 5:14). God will help you develop habits of faith to replace habits of sin. It will take a while, and that’s OK. Persevere. And involve those around you who are spiritually mature. They are experienced in this fight and will know how to lovingly exhort and encourage you.