October 1

Don’t Feel Sorry for Yourself or Others

Psalm 103:13 As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him.

Matthew 9:36 But when [Jesus] saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.

Mark 1:41 Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched [the leper], and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.”

We don’t need to spend any significant time on the first idea suggested by today’s title. We all know deep down that we shouldn’t feel sorry for ourselves, and we don’t even need to feel sorry for ourselves. For one, God is bigger than all our concerns, He works all things for good for us, and that His mercy triumphs over judgment. Secondly, we know that self-pity produces terrible fruit. People who live in self-pity are something like black holes, sucking everything in and producing little in return. We don’t enjoy being around those folks, and we rightly shrink away from feeling that way ourselves when we get tempted.

But in the same way that self-pity produces bad fruit, so does feeling sorry for someone. Now I understand how that reads, and a correct understanding of my point means that we need to provide some specific definitions. Of course we won’t find the expression “feel sorry for” anywhere in Scripture. Yet the other expressions that might come to mind need to be looked at carefully, as definitions have evolved over the years.

In the psalm quoted above, for example, the word translated “pity” literally means “have compassion for,” which is a Biblical concept. The Lord is a God of compassion, and we are called to be compassionate to others. So if by having pity, we mean having compassion, then we are bearing the right heart attitude toward others.

But “feeling sorry for” someone is something different. As self-pity locks people into a victim mentality, feeling sorry for others puts a victim mentality on them as well. There is actually a smidgen of a lack of faith combined with a slight lack of respect here. Compassion should lead us to action of some kind. Feeling sorry for someone tends to lock someone into a situation and fails to bring faith for change into the scenario. (Check out your own heart when you find yourself feeling sorry for someone, and ask yourself if you’ve chosen an emotional stance over faith for them.)

Feeling sorry for someone also demonstrates a (perhaps invisible or unfelt) lack of respect for the person, as if they were unable to better their circumstances. If folks around the “victim” continue to feel this way, there won’t be a search for a way out of the situation, or a path to healing. God is a God of redemption, and He is always working to bring redemption to every situation. Feeling sorry for someone is the fool’s gold of emotions, causing us to feel a distorted version of compassion while actually working to prevent growth. Let’s bring all of God’s compassion to everyone who needs it, and let’s keep faith and hope alive in our hearts as we do.

Prayer: Father, show me my heart in this area. If I fall into self-pity, please do what is necessary to get me out of it. If I fall into a faithless state of feeling sorry for anyone, help me to move over to genuine, hopeful compassion.

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