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When I feel self-pity…

It's easy to topple into self-pity at a time like this, writes Colin Sedgwick. Let's take a moment to reflect 


I’ve never been a great fan of J R R Tolkien (give me Narnia any time!), but he certainly said some good things. A friend recently sent me this quote from The Fellowship of the Ring

"I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

Frodo and Gandalf are in the thick of an ominous danger threatening the whole world, and poor Frodo expresses a plaintive regret – “I wish it need not have happened in my time”. Whereupon wise old Gandalf gently puts him right, saying in effect…

“That’s perfectly natural, Frodo. That’s how anyone would feel at a time like this. But it really is a waste of time. This is the way it is, so our job is to look facts in the face, roll up our sleeves, and do the very best we can.”

The cards we have been dealt are the only cards we can play. The scrabble tiles you’ve got are – well, the ones you’ve got; so why waste time lamenting that missing “e” that would have given you a seven-letter word? Or again, if there’s a short straw to be drawn, well, someone must draw it, mustn’t they? And why not us? That’s just the way it is.

The present-day application is obvious: Why did this pandemic have to happen now? Why in my lifetime? Why should my work, or leisure, or ambitions, or pleasure, be disrupted in this way? And not far under the surface is the thought, “It’s not fair! I expected a nice easy ride!”

To feel ourselves entitled to a basically comfortable life is natural to human nature, especially if we live in a prosperous part of the world. But of course no such “entitlement” exists, so we’d better get used to the idea.

I don’t think Frodo is to be blamed for what he felt – as I said, his complaint was natural enough. But when we feel this way it’s very easy to topple over into self-pity – “Poor me!” And that is something to be avoided.

The people of Israel, wandering in the wilderness, forgot the miraculous way God had set them free from Egypt, and lapsed into self-pity about their boring manna-food. They started “wailing” and hankering after those beautiful “cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic” (Numbers 11:4). 

And God was not pleased…

The prophet Elijah, fresh from a miraculous victory over the prophets of Baal, complains that the people of Israel are really not worth bothering with: they “put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left…” (1 Kings 19:14). 

Oh poor me! 

Even the godly Jeremiah had his moments: “Alas, my mother, that you gave me birth, a man with whom the whole land strives and contends! I have neither lent not borrowed, yet everyone curses me” (Jeremiah 15:10).

It’s not fair!

I don’t mean to make light of people whose sufferings are so much greater than anything I have ever known (so far!)…

The young couple planning to get married in early 1940 – only for the second world war to break out in September 1939… The young man on the brink of a brilliant football career – who suffered a broken leg and never played again… The world-famous medical professor who fell foul of the authorities in her country and ended her days scrubbing public lavatories. 

Above all, perhaps… Those millions of unknown people born into a remote village where there is no education, no opportunities, no health-care, just a likelihood of death by the age of forty-five. Why them?

The apostle Paul asked the Christians of Corinth to “put up with me in a little foolishness” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Perhaps you might be willing to do the same for me…

My problem is simple. From my perspective I am of course - this goes without saying - far and away the most important object in the whole universe, so everything should work out to suit my convenience. But unfortunately the universe seems to have a slightly different perspective – it sees me as worth about the same as a millionth part of a grain of sand. Huh! How dare it!

But…that’s the way it is. 

And yet… I have a consolation even bigger than the universe… the God who is known to us in Jesus Christ puts an infinite value on even that millionth part of a grain of sand… 

The story of Joni Eareckson Tada is well known, especially in Christian circles. As a young girl she dived into shallow water and was totally paralysed. She very naturally struggled to come to terms with such an appalling change in her situation. But a breakthrough occurred when she reached the stage of asking not “Why me?” but “Why not me?” She has gone on to live a full, satisfying and creative life.

Thanks be to God for people like her. 

Oh, and never forget Esther – and Mordecai, her Gandalf! Mordecai said to her (Esther 4:14): “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” 

Lord God, please keep me from any trace of self-pity. Help me to look at my situation, however less than perfect it may be, and to decide every day to seek only your will, and to carry it out with faith, cheerfulness and hope. Through Jesus, who suffered more injustice than we can ever know. Amen. 

Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister with many years’ experience in the ministry.

He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com


Image | Rod Long | Unsplash

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