What is the difference between having a pity party and feeling sad about a circumstance?
A friend just asked this in an email, and I'm intrigued.
I'm not very good at either one, I admit. I tend to soldier on no matter what, but I've been learning that this is not a healthy or helpful response to difficulty.
And I'm in pain right now. Real, physical pain. It sounds like I have an ulcer, though I tested negative for the H pylori bacteria. So it was probably caused by my preference for an ibuprofen and an aspirin whenever I get a headache, which is a couple times a week. Here I thought I was safeguarding my liver by not taking acetimenophen--although it never worked as well for me--but now my duodenum is paying for it. Sigh.
But I'm not just having abdominal pain; the referred pain to my back is actually worse most of the time. And since coffee, tea and caffeine are stomach acid triggers, I've been having terrible headaches getting weaned off them. And feeling tired, of course. Fatigue and pain don't mix well; they set off alarms in my body that make all my muscles tense up. Then I get tension headaches to add to the caffeine withdrawal headaches.
And I'm getting tired of soup.
And I badly want some of my kids' Halloween candy.
Waaaaaahhh! I think I would like a pity party, after all, please.
But I just keep going. Work distracts me from the pain, and besides, the world would end if I slowed down, right? Part of me wants to just go to bed and read all day, but I can't. Too many events and visitors and obligations and responsibilities.
I just realized that I've barely prayed for myself, for healing or any other need, since this pain began. I have prayed for others, though, more diligently than usual. What's that about?
I remember another time of great pain. It was psychic, not physical, and all I could pray during that time was "Lord, have mercy on me." I had no other words than that. I look back and I still don't see what good came out of those events, except that I learned to lean into Jesus in a way I never had before. I wasn't able to soldier on as usual during that time. I stopped reading my Bible, stopped journalling, slowed way down on the blogging, said no to many good things, and in some ways, I'm still not recovered. But every week during that time, it was another free fall into Jesus' arms, and He caught me each time. Despite my lack of words to tell Him what I was feeling.
I think this time I've spoken too many words about my pain. My friends, my parents, my in-laws, they all know about it and are praying, and that lifts me up. I feel it. But I've probably turned to them instead of turning to Jesus and resting in Him. The other time, I had to keep my pain to myself. It wasn't something I could share with very many people. It drove me to Jesus' arms instead.
We need others, though. I have depended on the prayers of others when I could not pray for myself. I needed understanding when all around me, life was clouded with misunderstanding. I had grief to process, and it helped me to process it with others. But it wasn't pity that I sought or needed; it was strength. Strength in prayer, in encouragement, in perseverance.
Oswald Chambers said:
Why shouldn’t we experience heartbreak? Through those doorways God is opening up ways of fellowship with His Son. Most of us collapse at the first grip of pain. We sit down at the door of God’s purpose and enter a slow death through self-pity. And all the so-called Christian sympathy of others helps us to our deathbed. But God will not. He comes with the grip of the pierced hand of His Son, as if to say, “Enter into fellowship with Me; arise and shine.” If God can accomplish His purposes in this world through a broken heart, then why not thank Him for breaking yours?
I'm honestly not sure what that's saying about Christian sympathy and prayer, but I know that suffering is something to be received from God's hand just as much as blessing, and that in this life, we will have trials. And yes, trials will build godly Christian character like James says. But more importantly, they push us toward God.
So we feel the pain. We don't push it away or deny it's there. We feel it, and we see the pierced hand of Christ extended to us, and we take it.
And we tell our friends what we are going through. Their job is to take our hand, and place it in His hand. Maybe they do that gently, or maybe they do it with a swift kick in the pants, if we need it 'cause we're lookin' for a pity party. Maybe the swift kick is the simple question, "Are you taking care of yourself?" We need our friends to speak truth to us, to be mirrors for us to see ourselves...good and bad. Sometimes we need a meal, or a night out, or someone to hold our hand, but as long as it point us to Jesus and not poor li'l me, it's not a pity party. We need each other.
But we need Jesus more.