Remembering God’s Faithfulness amidst the Pity Party

cry_me_a_riverContinued from here.

As I begin the process of walking away from the pity party, I expand my thanks beyond my own personal comforts by remembering God’s past faithfulness. In the process, I remind myself that God was enough before, and He is enough now. It goes something like this:

  • If you had only provided me salvation so I could avoid hell and go to heaven, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only healed the eating disorder, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only stopped the nightmares, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only stopped the self-injury, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only healed the panic attacks, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only brought me my son after years of infertility, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only healed my son after major back surgery, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only healed my marriage, it would have been enough.

As I go through this process, I gradually remove myself as the center of my focus and return it back where it belongs – onto God. He is more than enough. He is faithful. He is good. Nothing good comes from engaging in a pity party, but much good comes from remembering the God who has always been faithful.

The final step is to go be a blessing to someone else. I know I am vulnerable to the siren song of self-pity, so I need to get my mind off my own pain. An effective way to do this is to stop thinking about myself at all and, instead, replace those thoughts with how I can bless someone else. I can invite a lonely friend/acquaintance to lunch, donate items to a charity, send a card to someone who is in physical or emotional pain, look up a Bible verse that meets someone else’s needs, or choose from a myriad of other ways to be a blessing to someone else. As I shift my focus to being a blessing to others, I am empowered to walk away from the lure to participate in a pity party, which brings glory to God.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying as her tears reach nose-level. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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How to Avoid Pity Parties

cryContinued from here.

I remain vulnerable to engaging in pity parties, particularly when I don’t feel well physically, and thus must intentionally choose to take steps to avoid their lure. One step I take is choosing forgiveness at the moment that someone wounds me. I have already decided that I will forgive anyone for anything they do to harm me, and I waste no time in beginning to pray for them, even as I am reeling from what they have done. As an example, on the morning that I had to drive my son to a children’s hospital an hour away for major back surgery, we discovered that someone had vandalized my husband’s truck by breaking the windshield with a baseball bat. I was already vulnerable because of my son’s pending surgery, so I could have easily spent that hour’s drive feeling sorry for myself. Instead, I chose to spend that hour in prayer – both praying for my son’s surgery and praying for the vandals. While I did not feel like praying for the vandals, I chose to do so ensure bitterness would not take root in my heart.

Another step I take is to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thes. 5:16-18). No matter how uncomfortable I am (such as when I have the flu or a stomach virus), I am always, always, ALWAYS thankful for my bathroom. I am thankful that I can use a toilet instead of having to walk out into the heat, cold, rain, or snow to use a smelly outhouse. I am thankful for running water, hot showers, and toilet paper. No matter how miserable, unfair, or uncomfortable my circumstances are, I can always sincerely give thanks for my bathroom, which is a great starting point.

Once I begin the process of thanking God for my bathroom, I have greased the wheels toward other things I am thankful for: my house, my cozy bed, that I can afford a house, that I have the ability to walk myself over to the bathroom, etc. Note how everything I have mentioned thus far centers around my own comfort. When I am feeling lured into a pity party, I am gradually being lured into self-absorption, so I find that things I can be thankful for that revolve around myself are the most effective in beginning the redirection process.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying next to a crying emoticon. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Why Pity Parties are So Destructive

pity_party_catContinued from here.

God created us to worship Him, so if anything other than God is the primary focus of our lives, we are going to be miserable. By nature, pity parties place ourselves at the center of our lives, which the Bible calls pride.

I had a difficult time applying the label of “pride” to myself because I had such low self-esteem. I saw prideful people as those who were overly proud of themselves – as in believing they were better than everyone else whereas I saw myself as more pathetic than everyone else. I was shocked to learn that these extremes were two sides of the same coin. Just as someone who is beautiful can be prideful by always thinking of ways she is better than everyone else, I was prideful in thinking of ways that I was worse off than everyone else. In both cases, the self is the center of one’s focus rather than God, which is pride.

An even more difficult label for me to accept was “idolatry.” I believed that idolatry was one of the Ten Commandments that I did not need to worry about. After all, I never bowed down to a golden or wooden image of Baal or other “god.” However, idolatry is anything that we bow down to instead of God, and I repeatedly “bowed down” to my emotional pain, which I saw as bigger than God. When the Bible said that God would give me “beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Is. 61:3), I didn’t believe it because I had not experienced it.

I wanted God to do all the work of healing my emotional pain without my having to do my part of forgiving my abusers, and that’s not the way it works. I cannot pray a pumpkin patch into existence without first planting pumpkin seeds. While God can do anything, he requires the farmer to plant the pumpkin seeds first. Then, He does His part to grow those seeds into pumpkins. The same concept applies to experiencing healing from your emotional pain. Until you plant the seeds of forgiveness and gratitude, the healing God promises in the Bible will elude you – not because God is not capable of healing you but because God is waiting for you to do your part before He will do His.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying with a cat. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Appeal of Pity Parties

pity_party_ice_creamContinued from here.

I used to love a good pity party. I could wallow in my pain and the unfairness of my life for weeks at a time. I would relive all of the ways that people wronged me and nurse my hatred and bitterness toward them. To God, I probably looked like Pigpen from the Peanuts comic strip with self-pity surrounding me like a cloud.

Wallowing in self-pity makes us miserable, so we do we do it? The best lies contain much truth, which is what enables others to be deceived so easily. It was true that I was severely abused as a child, that I suffered greatly in the aftermath of that abuse, and that I was in no way responsible for having been abused as a child. Because I believed these truths, I took the next step to believe the lie that I would never be freed from the pain of the aftermath of the abuse.

I believed that my pain was bigger than God’s ability to heal me. Because I believed this, it became my “reality.” No matter how many times I prayed for emotional healing, I stayed mired in pain. Despite numerous Christians praying for my emotional healing over a period of years, very little progress took place. I did not experience freedom from my emotional pain until I obeyed God by replacing my pity parties with prayers for my enemies and deciding to forgive my childhood abusers, no matter how long the process took. I had to choose this again and again – day after day and month after month for over a year before it became a reality.

While I have met people who were able to forgive quickly, that was not my experience. I had marinated in my bitterness for decades, so it took a long time for me to learn how to live differently. I enjoyed hating my childhood abusers, and I wallowed in bitterness and self-pity whenever anyone did anything that hurt my feelings in my present-day life. My thoughts were filled with a checklist of all the ways other people had wronged me. I was constantly at the center of my thoughts. The enemy was happy to encourage me to keep myself as the center of my universe, knowing that I would never experience God’s healing power as long as my pain, and not my God, was the object of my worship.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying while eating a gallon of ice cream. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Slow Miracles Focus on Who We are Becoming

Continued from here.

God cares more about who you are becoming than where you are going. When we are in pain, we want our miracle NOW, but God wants more for us than simply deliverance from pain. God certainly has the ability to heal us instantly – God healed one of my close friends from cigarette addiction instantly, and she hasn’t smoked again in decades. However, quick miracles happen too quickly for much character develop to take place. The blessing of the slow miracle is that is provides much time to transform us closer to the image of Christ.

While we are waiting on our slow miracles, we aren’t just sitting around doing nothing. God expects us to do our part, and that’s what drives us to transform. Of course, we need to be in prayer about our miracle, not only asking God to perform the miracle but also thanking Him for what He has already done. If the miracle involves not doing something (such as not drinking, smoking, eating, etc.), we need to be in prayer throughout the day to help us stay the course and not give in to temptation. As we do this, we are learning dependency upon God: how to stay connected to the Vine.

Some of my slow miracles did not begin until I started doing things God’s way. One example is that God did not begin healing my deepest pain from the childhood abuse until I started praying for my abusers with the intention of forgiving them. As I obeyed God by choosing forgiveness (which is a process), God gradually healed the pain until I one day realized that the pain was completely gone. Another example was healing my marriage. God did not heal my marriage quickly. Instead, he led me to work through Alex Kendrick’s and Stephen Kendrick’s The Love Dare as I learned what unconditional love looks like in practice. I had to humble myself in my marriage, doing marriage God’s way, to experience the slow miracle of His healing. Not only did God miraculously heal both me and my marriage, but He transformed me closer to the image of Christ.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of The Love Dare. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Empathy Developed through Slow Miracles

forgive_youContinued from here.

As I shared in my last blog entry, God healing me from the pain of childhood abuse happened slowly as I obeyed His command to forgive them. I did this by praying for them day after day, week and week, and month after month for over a year. I knew I had forgiven them when the pain was gone. If God had miraculously healed that pain instantly, I never would have forgiven them, which would have led me right back to where I started – mired in bitterness, which would have brought more pain. Instead, I am free and refuse to go back into the bondage of bitterness. I choose to forgive anyone who hurts me immediately and pray for each transgressor daily until I no longer feel pain. God not only gave me the tools to participate in the slow miracle of healing the pain from childhood abuse, but He also showed me how to apply those tools in my day-to-day life so I am not mired by bitterness today.

Because God used a slow miracle that required me to exert much effort in obedience to Him, I have deep empathy for those who are mired in unforgiveness. I have not forgotten how difficult unforgiveness is or how distasteful the thought of forgiving a wrongdoer is. I vividly remember all of my own objections: “But they don’t deserve it! You have no idea how deeply they wounded me! Nobody could forgive what they did to me! I have every right to hate them, and I DO hate them!” This deep empathy helps me be gentle as I guide people toward obeying God in this sensitive area.

As an example, I have shared that I am the executive director for a statewide prison ministry. A woman called about potentially volunteering for our post-incarceration ministry. I told her that ALL are welcome, from shoplifters to murderers. I also mentioned that even sex offenders are welcome, which was a stumbling block for her. She had the wisdom to recognize that she was not yet spiritually mature enough to offer comfort to sex offenders who were reentering society. Rather than judge her for this, I told her I understand – and I do! – because if we were having this conversation five years ago, it would be completely different because I used to feel the same way. I told her that I had been victimized by sex offenders as a child, and I was only able to develop compassion for sex offenders after God led me to forgive my own abusers.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with a halo and angel wings saying, “I forgive you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Slow Miracles Keep Us Empathetic

i_feel_uContinued from here.

One of the reasons that we do not immediately die and go to heaven when we receive Christ as Savior is because once we submit to God’s authority, our lives stop being about us. God loves everyone and wants to be reconciled with everyone. We are His Body on this earth to reach out to others. Many of those who are separated from God are in bondage, and we can best reach them by maintaining empathy toward what it feels like to be in bondage. The slow miracle enables us to stay empathetic to the pain and challenges of living with difficulty and impossibility.

Another one of my slow miracles was healing from the child abuse. While therapy took me a long way, I continued to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms that my therapist said would never fully heal. He said that PTSD is something that is not healed so much as managed. Instead of having hard months with a few good days or weeks, the ratio would shift to having good months interspersed with few hard days or weeks, but hardship related to the PTSD would always be a part of my life. I did not experience healing of my deepest emotional wounds until I obeyed God in forgiving my abusers, and that took time … lots and lots of time. I prayed for them day after day, week after week, and month after month for over a year before I was finally able to forgive them. I knew I had forgiven them when the pain was gone.

Because this was such a long and difficult process for me (a slow miracle), I retain empathy for those who live in a state of unforgiveness, which (sadly) is most people, even Christians. If God had instantly healed my childhood pain without requiring me to forgive, I am certain I never would have obeyed God in doing so. My pain was so heavy that I was willing to do ANYTHING – even obey God in praying for my enemies – to find relief. Even though I forgave my childhood abusers years ago, I continue to remember the pain and heaviness of unforgiveness, which gives me deep empathy for those who are hurting as they continue to feed their bitterness toward those who have wronged them.

I have more to say on this topic, so we’ll continue discussing miracles next week.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding her hand over her heart and saying, “I feel U.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]