The letter on my desk had traveled many miles to deliver its sad story. While I felt sorry for this friend, I realized my most difficult task would be to help her stop feeling sorry for herself.
Were her problems real? Yes.
Did this hurting woman deserve a compassionate response? Of course!
Still I knew that I must weigh my words carefully because contributing to her self-pity would only intensify her problems, making her less able to cope with them.
In his widely read book, “How to Win over Depression,” Dr. Tim LaHaye indicts self-pity as one of the primary causes of depression and even labels it a serious sin. In his words: “When stripped of its false façade of excuse making and self-justification, self-pity stands naked and exposed as mental attitude sin.”
Dr. LaHaye goes on to present a convincing case against yielding to self-pity; but how can we rid ourselves of this dark frame of mind that moves in on us so easily when things go wrong and our carefully constructed castles begin to crumble?
We can remember that we are not the first to face tough times. Others have walked through the same kind of valley we’re in today and survived. Some have even risen out of similar difficulties and moved on to their greatest accomplishments, but none of these good things would have come their way had they insisted on clinging to their losses and pitying themselves over every difficulty they faced along the way.
If this is a dark day for you, see if you can draw strength from the approach taken by Paul in comforting troubled people in the Corinthian church: “There has no temptation (or trial) overtaken you except such as is common to man,” he wrote, then added the following powerful depression destroyer: “but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted (or tested) beyond what you are able” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
A young missionary who was struggling with depression was told to frequently enter a room alone and shout “God is faithful!” This vocal affirmation of God’s faithfulness drove away his depression. Maybe you need a private shouting place.
Developing a thankful heart is another effective resource for purging pity.
Self-pity and thankfulness can’t co-exist.
Asked what he had learned from drifting about with his companions in life rafts for twenty one days in the Pacific Ocean, World War II hero, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, replied, “The biggest lesson I learned from that experience was that if you have all the fresh water you want to drink and all the food you want to eat, you ought never to complain over anything.” But many who have plenty of food, water and other essentials succumb to self-pity because they don’t count their blessings.
We can also break out of the bondage of self-pity by considering the needs of other people and doing something to help them. When we turn our attention from our struggles to those of others and focus on their needs instead of our own, we are on our way out of depression, self-pity and despair. Why should we waste our lives feeling sorry for ourselves when the One who understands reaches out in love to us all?
Roger Campbell is an author, a broadcaster and a columnist who was a pastor for 22 years. He can be reached at email@example.com