“If I could just be content” I’ve repeated that one line more times than I care to count. After all that is what Paul said,
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I’ve learned what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:11-13).
He was needy. He had deficits. It wasn’t easy and it certainly wasn’t fair. He could have mired in discontentment. He could sit around and have a pity party for himself. Yet he said he had to learn contentment. As a side note, this is the context in which he says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. His statement points to being content when there is need. This is what Christ strengthens him to do.
We should not fool ourselves in thinking that deficits and unaddressed needs don’t bother us and put the whammy on our souls. But the bigger question is how do we treat them? Learning contentment in discontenting circumstances is often a difficult task and slow process. But what I’m discovering is that it is the only way towards contentment when you want to do otherwise.
Discontentment has been one of my biggest struggles lately. It’s primarily related to numerous disappointments in my life. But I’ve also found an enduring friend in self-pity. If you don’t know this deadly combination, than be very grateful. In fact, gratitude stands far off at a distance where these three are involved. Gratitude waves and beckons but the chasm seems too wide and deep to cross leaving a faint memory of what real joy felt like. All your left with is a battle with bitterness that wants to come join the party. Because where discontentment, disappointment and self-pity are, you can bet that their friend bitterness is hanging around waiting to be the life of the party. This crasher will not want to leave.
I love that God has been kicking me in the rear lately, letting me know that these unwelcomed guests need to leave. There’s no playing nice with these enemies. And let’s not fool ourselves, they are enemies. When discontentment rouses disappointment, they become like a slow gnawing burn on the soul, displacing joy and motivation. Self-pity provides the justification for them to stay and that’s what makes it so dangerous. It wants you to play nice and let it hang around for awhile. The next thing you know it has joined hands with discontentment and disappointment, formed a circle, singing ring around the rosy and waiting for you to fall down.
I came across this piece by Jared Wilson, Confessions as Idle, Lustful Babbling and it pierced right to the heart. He notes that there is a danger to the other side of holding back confession, which is to use it for self-focused purposes and keep the drama going. That is exactly what self-pity does. Here are the five confessional perversions he notes;
1. We treat the confession itself not as an act of repentance but mainly of catharsis. This is the employment of cheap grace. Basically, we’re not looking so much for the grace that frees and empowers us but the opportunity to “get something off our chests.” At least, until the next opportunity.
2. The confession becomes a self-indulgent “pity party” session. It is not about receiving the word of forgiveness in the gospel from our brethren and walking in that freedom but about occupying their ears to satisfy our need for attention and soaking up their consolation. It’s not the gospel’s embrace we really want, in other words, but some pats on the back.
3. We turn our confession into self-justification. We end up spending most of the time blaming our wrongs on all the people whose fault it really is. We use the time to confess others’ sins, not our own.
4. We treat confession secretly as sport. Mainly, we confess certain things to see what might scandalize our community or offend their sensibilities. We enjoy cultivating a prurient interest or creating a shock factor. This is relatively rare but still real.
5. We confess sins to look like good confessors. This is what Bonhoeffer is mainly addressing in the excerpt above.
I can’t recall how many times I’ve seized opportunities to tell my sad tale of woe. Oh boo hoo, look at how much difficulties have been in my life, look at how badly I was treated, look at how God continues his silence. Really, nobody cares. Well sure the body is supposed to care but more importantly that together, we are pressing on towards maturity. This is our chief concern. Certainly growth and pity-parties are incompatible and good needs to be practiced (Heb 5:14). Sometimes we need a swift kick in the rear to remind us of that.
The other day, a classmate reminded me of the importance of gratitude. Being thankful and practicing it every day for just the smallest of things and the air we breathe. It reminded me of this song by Nichole Nordeman that I need to listen to from time to time.
While I am not one for forced prevention and trite sanctification formulas, sometimes it really is that simple. It doesn’t mean dancing on a Pollyanna puffycloud or pretending that the unfair stuff of life hasn’t hurt us. But it does mean we don’t want it to interfere with living out our Christian hope.
So if you are battling discontentment, disappointment and self-pity look to be shook up. Ask for it. Tell the Lord how tired you are. Learn to rest in Christ. Focus on his sovereign, saving acts instead of yourself (this is why I’m gaining an increasing appreciation for the OT). And by all means, lean on the body for support. Let some trusted friends speak some hard truth. See a counselor who can give sound guidance. Be thankful and by all means, give self-pity the boot.