Many people habituated to the balm of self-pity get disgusted eventually and decide, “I am going to stop pitying myself.” They make a New Year’s resolution to lose 15 pounds, make all of the beds every morning and refuse to feel sorry for themselves all year long. They tell their girlfriends, “I am going to feel sorry for other people who deserve it from now on. Not for me.” And, often, they think, “If I stick to this decision, I can have pepperoni pizza every Friday night as a reward.”
The fatal flaw in this formula for self improvement is that an act of will, like making a bed, does not change a feeling – like the sickening self-pity when you realize you just made everybody’s bed 10 days running. Such resolutions quickly cave to the cascade of self-pity favorites like: “Didn’t anyone hear me about the beds?” “Does anyone even know I exist in this house?” “All I am good for is making beds and changing toilet paper rolls?” “Why doesn’t anyone care how I tired I am?” Bam. Just like that you are back, stranded on a beach of despair, waiting for the next gigantic wave with your name on it.
As I detailed in Pitithetic I and Pitithetic II, forgiveness, spiritual counseling and the sacrament of Reconciliation provided initial steps for me in my battle with the vanity practice of self pitying. But only God’s grace, the life-giving water of love, could get me through the tough task of centering God above all others and setting the boundaries I needed to focus on God’s love, rather than earthly approvals, successes and pleasures. As I set new boundaries designed to forge and strengthen – not test – my relationship with God, He sent me new, inter-related tools that, each day, eased the struggle I had with self pity and the challenge of helping others accept my new limits: humor and hope.
As I began to set new limits on what I could and could not do for others, so that my face was fully and finally turned towards God, I disappointed people I loved. When people have come to rely upon you for quick service, good cheer, willing compliance, etc., they often experience deflation when, instead, you say, “I cannot do that right now. I have to pray.” or “I cannot watch that movie with you because it turns my mind away from God.” This is especially true with children who will stop dead in their tracks and wail when their formerly perfect mother says, “No, not now, dear” the first time.
When I was living in Atlanta with three little ones under 10 years of age, I thought I was serving God by serving their every little whim without a whimper. I felt selfish and unholy when, in rare moments of silence, I broke into tears of self-pity. Then, I read a great story. A woman exhausted by too many unbroken months of self-giving to self-absorbed teenagers moved into the abandoned tree house in her backyard. She left a note saying, “I can’t take this anymore. I will be living in the tree house. Good-bye.” The teenagers reportedly took turns standing at the foot of the tree house trees, yelling up to their mother to move back into the house.
The story ignited my imagination. I could see myself lounging among the branches, smothered in mosquito spray, surrounded by my Bible and every book written by Rumer Godden and Caryll Houselander, reading into the night of Christ and his holy mother by flashlight, eating from a stash of Cheetos and sipping Juicy Juices stolen from the kids. My fascination with the Tree house Mother nurtured other fantasies free of pacifiers, diapers, mucus and whining. It was my very slow introduction to the longing in my heart – the longing that only God can satisfy.
This was also my introduction to the humor and hope that can transform self-pity from a lifelong holding pen. This article, Pitithetic III, was proofed, buffed and ready to publish when a triple whammy threatened to send me back to the familiar confines of despair: our family pug died, I found a lump in my right breast and my only daughter left for five months studying in Chile. Even if I might have clumsily made my way through any one of these traumas, the three combined strained any experience I’d faced since declaring myself freed from my former pitithetic practices. Each worry and loss broke upon me in quick succession – the pummeling further empowered by a heart numbing rant from an elder member of my extended family. Just at the moment I most needed comfort and nurture myself, this ailing family member indulged the urge to review a carefully kept list of reasons why I was the “most selfish and insensitive” person ever!
I pulled back from my submission of this article, fully in the grip of the familiar urge to lie down on my beach of self-pity, to await the professional caregivers, warm blankets and hot sugary tea I surely deserved. I thought, “How can someone so easily pitithetic offer anyone advise on this sin?” I stared at my tear-stained face and snorted in disgust.
But God had not brought me this far without giving me abundant options to self-pity. In my own battle with pitithetic sin, I had discovered the Catholic convert Erma Bombeck. A self-confessed, occasional imbiber of “pity pills,” Bombeck offered a perspective that rescued me now. It is a peculiar mixture of hope and humor that nurtures my direct connection to God.
“I always had a dream that when I am asked to give an accounting of my life to a higher court, it will go like this: “So, empty your pockets. What have you got left of your life? Any dreams that were unfulfilled? Any unused talent that we gave you when you were born that you still have left? Any unsaid compliments or bits of love that you haven’t spread around?”
And I will answer, “I’ve nothing to return. I spent everything you gave me. I’m as naked as the day I was born.”
My latest triple whammy, I knew, offered three more glorious opportunities to discover and use the talents God gave me – to practice His Presence and deepen my longing for Him. Put in that perspective, I could search how to deepen my relationship with my Creator through each adversity, not despite.
Both the death of our dog and the medical follow up to the lump in my breast (benign) immediately bonded me to a number of friends who’d only recently experienced similar challenges. My daughter quickly developed homesickness and badly needed positive reassurances and maternal calm to ease her transition. I focused on using my talents and giving “bits of love” – and God, once again, rescued me from the temptation to despair.
His Grace alone, I know, stands between me and my own worst sin. And He gave me one last experience of His Presence and abiding love before I hit “submit” Pitithetic III to share with you in Christ.
Topics: Personal Growth