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Religious

Throwing Away Self-Pity

“Awake, awake, put on your strength, Zion!”

Isaiah 52:1a (Common English Bible)

Captivity for Israel has ended. God has defeated the powers of Babylon and has authorized Israel to depart and head for home to Jerusalem. A new day, with a strong future, now rises for God’s people. “Awake, awake!” is God’s double imperative to Israel. “Put on your strength, Zion!” The call sounds strangely familiar. “Up and Adam! Let’s get going!” is the more common usage today. These, or similar, words have been uttered by most parents summoning their children awake from their sleep. The image of sleepy children, resisting the call to leave the comfort of a warm bed, is sharp and crisp. The parent can wake the child with a shout, can summon the child from the bed, but it must be the child’s own strength that moves them from slumber to a fresh engagement with a new day.

God’s present difficulty is that Israel doesn’t want to get out of bed. During their captivity in Babylon, Israel has become dulled, inattentive, hopeless, and grief-stricken.i Israel has been humiliated by Babylon and has spiraled into such despair and self-pity that they no longer want to live. No longer did life offer a driving purpose, only a memory of brighter days. Absent was a radiant hope, only a fading dream. A captivating vision has fled from their sight. What remained was a history. “Awake, awake!” is God’s response to Israel’s self-pity. “Put on your strength, Zion!” God is reminding Israel that there is still strength in the people and is here urging them to summon that strength and toss-off that negative attitude that has consumed them.

Psychotherapist and author, Amy Morin writes that feeling sorry for yourself is self-destructive.ii Though we all experience pain and sorrow in life, dwelling on your sorrow and misfortune can consume you until it eventually changes your thoughts and behaviors. Morin contends that any of us can choose to take control. “Even when you can’t alter your circumstances, you can alter your attitude.”iii This is the clear declaration of God to Israel; the clear call to shake off their indulgence in self-pity, claim the strength that remains in them, and move positively forward toward the future God has prepared for them. God’s strength comes alongside our own. It does not do for us what we can do for ourselves.

After Victor Hugo was exiled from his beloved France, he spent 18 years in the Channel Islands. Hugo once described this exile from the nation he loved as worse than death. Each afternoon, at sunset, Victor Hugo would climb to a cliff overlooking a small harbor and look longingly out over the water toward France. Legend tells us that each day, following his meditations, Hugo would pick up a pebble and throw it into the sea. One day the children who developed an affection for him asked why he threw a stone in the sea each day. “Not stones, children, not stones. I am throwing my self-pity into the sea.” Little wonder that during those 18 years of struggle, Victor Hugo gave the world his best and most profound work of literature.

Joy,

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i Walter Brueggemann, Isaiah 40-66. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998) 136.

ii Amy Morin, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. (New York: William Morrow, 2014) 20.

Categories
Religious

The Allure of a Defeated Life

“I was given a thorn in my body.”

2 Corinthians 12:7 (Common English Bible)

Few things are as unfortunate as to see a woman or man losing heart and all sense of hope, drifting into apathy, and finally despair. When a sense of defeat is permitted to take residence in a life, frustration and inaction are too frequently the result. The face becomes sullen, the head is held low, and the shoulders sag. Bitterness grows, the result of an erroneous belief that life has dealt a raw deal or that others have received better opportunities. Left unchecked, the self-pity sentences them to low levels of achievement. A strange comfort is found in simply giving-up – experiencing a certain allure of being defeated.

History is replete with men and women who have experienced hardship, anguished over setbacks, and struggled with handicaps – physical, mental and emotional. Anyone of them may have been resentful and rebellious – and many have – with bad behavior the consequence. Yet, there are others who rise above the circumstances of their lives, press forward with unbelievable determination and consecrate their lives to the service of others. The apostle Paul stands among them. Paul moved through life hindered by “a thorn in the body” but produced nearly two-thirds of our New Testament.

Rather than giving-up and accepting defeat, Paul labored under his handicap. Naturally, Paul – like any of us – preferred that the handicap be corrected, the difficulty removed. On three occasions Paul asked the Lord for this. But the handicap remained; the thorn wasn’t removed. But Paul’s prayers were answered. “My grace is enough for you,” answered God. With God’s answer, Paul committed himself to do the very best he could do with what he had. His life and ministry was a vessel of hope for everyone he encountered. To his children, Theodore Roosevelt continually cultivated a hopeful disposition – and in doing so charged the atmosphere of his home with hope.

Paul sought to demonstrate in his life that there is no limitation, no misfortune, no burden of sorrow, suffering or loss that the human spirit cannot rise above. He endured much of each. But Paul went deeper than self-discipline and self-determination. Paul triumphed over it all because he sought God. Perhaps this was the finest message that Paul left the church – that when the allure of defeat tempts the heart Paul calls us to that deeper place where our life is open to the grace and power of Almighty God.

Joy,