|(Lake Michigan sunset)|
In Luke 9:23 Jesus tells us, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Self-denial is necessary to take up the cross and follow Jesus. It needs to be happen every day.
Self-denial involves stripping away negative aspects of the self. These are things like self-love, self-hatred, and self-pity. All are forms of self-obsession. The more self-obsession, the less following of Jesus there will be. Following Jesus is in inverse proportion to self-obsession.
Self-pity is one of the more punishing forms of self-obsession. Self-pity cannot coexist with spiritual renewal and transformation.
In one of my seminary classes I was talking about holding “pity parties,” when a pastor named Samuel from Ghana asked, “What do you mean by “pity party?”” I said, “Samuel, the next time I host one for myself, I’ll invite you.” Unfortunately, I could write an essay on How To Host Your Next Pity Party.
To be self-pitying is to live life as a victim. While it’s true that sometimes we are victims, there is a spirit of victimization (self-deprivation) that is to be distinguished from the real thing. It looks like this: "Poor me! They are not treating me right - and after all I've done for them!" Such is the self-pitying, angry person. (Can you imagine Jesus acting like this?)
In this regard Henri Nouwen asks, "What else is anger but the response to the sense of being deprived? Much of my own anger comes from the fact that my self feels deprived." When one chooses to express this anger by hosting a pity party, self-obsession has begun.
In Tolstoy’s character Ivan Ilych we see one of the most brilliant literary depictions of self-pitying victimhood. Read closely. He writes:
Self-pity is in opposition to spiritual renewal and transformation of the heart. Someone who holds “pity parties” refuses to take responsibility for their own behavior, and blames others. Self-pity leads to a “victim mentality.” Self-pity needs to be denied access to our hearts, because it keeps us from being fulfilled in Jesus.
To experience renewal and transformation, be free from defending your own honor and reputation. Experience God as your Defender. Do this by being like a branch attached to Jesus the true Vine, gaining your sustenance from him. You will experience a joy, and a peace, unlike our culture offers, that will exorcize self-obsession.