Self-pity and the path to marital destruction
We (Laura and Matt) are just days shy of our 20th wedding anniversary. It's a major milestone for our marriage--one of which we are extremely proud. Many might just look at the years that we have collected and assume that we have this marriage thing all figured out. That would be wrong. It is no exaggeration to say that it is only by God's grace that we're here.
We have a confession and exhortation that highlight our struggle. But, here is the bottom line. We have been living under the back-breaking weight of idolatry. It feels odd to admit this--after years of making what we regarded as "bold faith moves" like giving up everything, multiple times, to follow him into the next call of our lives and intending to love and serve the Lord. But, we are compelled to this confession in the hopes that it will help other couples to avoid robbing God of his glory through idolatrous living as we have done.
When Matt and I married in 1999, we vowed to one another, God, and our family and friends that we were signing on to a life of service and love, sacrifice and ministry. Sure enough. God took us at our word and summarily turned our lives upside down. He led us on a journey that has been shockingly different than what we expected. We've spent these last many years reconciling the limits of our vision with God's leading. (If you've ever asked the questions "God, why...?" or "God, you're calling us there??" you likely understand some of how He leads, and the kind of spiritual transformation that He offers in the reconciling.)
In some seasons, we were able to see our lives as God saw them: in our desperate dependence, we still knew God's purpose and favor and provision, and we trusted him. But in many seasons, we fell prey to the enemy's attempts to use the unanticipated bends in the road as opportunities to whisper messages of self-pity and doubt.
For us, self-pity feels all too familiar. Self-pity turns us inwardly toward only ourselves. It commonly takes the form of grumbling and complaining, or maybe envying one another or others in our circle ("He has it easy because...", or "They just don't understand..."), comparing, diminishing, longing for comforts that God is withholding from us.
Sometimes we'd ask: Why would God be withholding from us after we have done our best to follow his voice? To our limited minds, it seemed so confusing. Perhaps you know this confusion as well.
But, when we take a step back and prayerfully consider the fullness of God's voice, we hear him quietly teaching us that he withholds to bequeath. That's the irony. He keeps from us those things whose time is not yet come in order to create in us those things whose time is here. For example, God may delay the promotion that you desire at work in order to teach you patience in dealing with a difficult coworker. God's withholding is designed to teach us dependence on him, drawing us closer to him. When our struggle leads to triumphs, God's name is praised. When our losses reveal his gains, God's name is praised.
This is why self-pity is so destructive, because it glorifies and magnifies our human pain and suffering rather than praising, releasing, and trusting God to be the master of this plan. Self-pity takes the compassion that God has shown us for the sake of pouring into others (Philippians 2:1-4), and instead pours it down the drain of our grumbling. Self-pity robs God's kingdom and this world of a sacrificial, laying-down-of-self kind of love that is sorely lacking today.
It robs God, it robs us, it robs God's people, and it robs a world which is hungry to see glimpses of His power and glory.
For us, self-pity let us idolize ourselves and the life we had wished for. It became the idol we carried on our backs, that occupied every room of our home, that sometimes sucked the oxygen out of our car rides and conversations, and even our prayers.
Until we confessed the sin of idolatry and prayed for strength to resist self-pity, God could not be on the throne of our marriage and household. God could not be glorified because our pain and pouting eclipsed and shrouded his presence in our lives. God could not give us vision because self-pity blinded us. God could not lift our burdens or carry our yoke because we would not pull ourselves from self-pity's clutches. We bore the weight alone, almost crushing us.
Even with all our stumbles and maybe even because of them, our exhortation has become clearer. We've confessed and God is lifting us. We're praying for God's vision rather than our vision. We're asking for faith, to believe bigger and bolder, so that God can be glorified.
Would you join us in praying for strength and obedience to resist the temptation of self-pity? We know that if the enemy has used the temptation of self pity to rob us, he is likely trying to rob others in this same way, so will join us in courageous, bold, faithful resistance to anything that robs God of the opportunity to be magnified, to shine brightly in darkness? We need fellow co-laborers and warriors to root-out self pity and its pernicious cost to the Kingdom.
As English actor, comedian and writer, Stephen Fry communicates in this video, our very lives and depend on it.