There was once a woman named Martha. She had a sister named Mary. One day, Jesus came to her home with His disciples, and He began to teach.
Mary sat herself down next to Jesus and listened to everything He said.
Martha, on the other hand, stayed on her feet. She bustled around the house, serving food, fluffing pillows, sweeping crumbs, refilling cups, and making her visitors comfortable.
After a while, Martha began to feel sorry for herself.
Why wasn’t Mary helping her? There was a bowl of grapes that needed washing and clipping. A cheese tray was waiting to be assembled. Someone had to fetch more water for all these thirsty people. “I can’t do it all!” Martha huffed. “Look at Mary, just sitting there doing nothing. While I’m stuck with all the work.”
“That’s it!” Martha said to herself. “I’m going straight to Jesus with this. He’ll put Mary in her place, and then won’t she feel ashamed? And maybe all these men will recognize how much work it takes to entertain them.”
You probably know how that turned out for Martha…if you can’t remember, then you can read the whole story in Luke 10:38-42.
Like Martha, I often allow myself to sink into self-pity, which Merriam-Webster defines as “a self-indulgent dwelling on one’s own sorrows or misfortunes.”
Some of us are more prone to self-pity than others. How prone are you to this temptation? I’ll confess that I’m not qualified to write a blog post on self-pity. (My aim in writing this is to learn from it, not teach others what I’ve already mastered.)
Let’s take a closer look at self-pity. First of all…
How does self-pity manifest itself outwardly?
Sometimes I don’t even realize when I’m in pity mode. Here’s how it looks for me:
- I complain, find fault, and feel generally dissatisfied.
- I become easily offended. Nobody can do anything right in my eyes.
- I resort to passive-aggressive behavior, saying things that I want other people to contradict: “No one cares what I think” or “That was a terrible dinner I made.”
- I become overly focused on self-care (in a bad way). I’m trying to comfort myself with rewards and indulgences.
Where does self-pity come from?
If self-pity comes from dwelling too much on my own sorrows and misfortunes, then it only stands to reason that if I don’t have many sorrows or misfortunes, then I won’t feel sorry for myself all that much. (Haha!)
Oh no. Even when life is going just fine and dandy, I still manage to pity myself. I find a way.
Okay, so, self-pity doesn’t necessarily require an overabundance of external troubles.
Where does it come from then?
Self-pity comes from inside me (not outside). And it comes from a place of pride.
You’d think that self-pity would result from thinking less of yourself. But it actually comes from thinking more of yourself.
This is weird.
It’s when we feel like we’ve been overlooked, when our sufferings and misfortunes have gone unnoticed. Or, when our good deeds have gone unappreciated.
This hits home for me. I’m much more prone to self-pity when I’ve been giving and giving and I feel like I’m getting nothing in return (or getting nowhere for my efforts). Self-pity strikes not when I feel most miserable but when I feel most invisible.
Let’s go back to Martha. How can her actions and words be perceived as prideful?
- Don’t you see that I’m sacrificing my “Jesus time” to serve the crowd?
- Nobody even notices that I’m doing everything around here.
- Here’s what I would do to set things right…I’ll go tell Jesus how He should handle this.
How can I overcome self-pity?
Here are a few things that I can do to keep from throwing a full-on pity party for myself in moments of weakness.
Ask forgiveness for my pride
If I can recognize that my pity is actually a type of pride, then I also need to recognize that it’s a sin that doesn’t need feeding. When I ask God to forgive me of my pride, then I can stop seeking the justice and recognition it demands. Then, I can simply walk away, free from the weight of it.
Shift my focus to others
Self-pity is a “me-focused” thing. If I take the spotlight off myself and shift it instead to helping others, then that’s a huge step away from Pityville. It forces me to confront the fact that I’m not the only person in this world who has sorrows. We’re all going through hard times of one sort or another, and our job is to pray for one another and encourage each other.
Gratitude and self-pity can’t easily co-exist. When I count my blessings, I don’t feel nearly as sorry for myself. It really helps to make an effort to focus my prayers on thanksgiving and praise instead of asking God to take away my woes.
Humility drives out self-pity because it dissolves the root, which is pride. If Jesus Himself wasn’t spared sorrows and misfortunes in His life, then what makes me think that I’m entitled to a life without them? What makes me so special? And what’s my sacrifice compared to His?
Take out the trash
If you leave trash in the house and never take it out, what happens? (Pee-yew!) Self-pity is like trash that stinks up my spiritual house (my soul). I’ve got to get it out somehow.
But, when I take out my garbage, I don’t bring it to my neighbor’s house and leave it on their doorstep. I’ve got to take it out properly (so that it goes to the dump, where it belongs).
Here’s what I’m getting at: Feelings of self-pity often make me want to “vent.” You know the kind of venting I’m talking about—the gossipy, no-good kind. Instead of unloading my trash on a friend or sister, I should just put it where it belongs…in the wastebasket.
I need to repent, but I’m not there yet…the trash isn’t quite out.
Since I enjoy writing, I will sometimes write my frustrations on paper. Then, I read through my rant one time. Seeing all that venom inked out in black and white helps me realize how much I really do need to repent. Then, I throw it away. Trash is out. And nobody else had to smell it.
So, what about you? Have you ever struggled with self-pity? What helped you overcome it?
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.