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Self-pity

By Fr. ROY CIMAGALA
November 12, 2009

WE have been warned amply in the Gospel about this anomaly. The story of the master who came home and expected his servant to serve him even if the servant was working the whole day, had the following conclusion that drives home the point –

“When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done no more than what we ought to do.’” (Lk 17,10)

We should be repeating these lines often to keep us from playing into the hands of self-pity!

Truth is our tendency to fall into self-pity because of reasons like tiredness, big and heavy load of work, persistent problems and miseries personal and otherwise, etc., is quite deep and pronounced. We need to be very aware of this weakness and do all to avoid succumbing into it.

Self-pity comes about when we make ourselves, not God and the others in God, as the ultimate arbiter of what we are supposed to do. It’s this basic mistake that curtails and truncates our sense of duty.

With it, our knowledge of our duties can easily be held hostage by our personal weaknesses, without mentioning the other consequences of our sins that can greatly impair it. It becomes shallow, narrow-minded and Pavlovian in its behavior.

We would not know the real reasons for our actions and obligations. We become prone to improper motives that ultimately zero in on ourselves – our advantage, comfort, pride and vanity, etc.

Of course, we can also go to the other extreme, as in exaggerating our capabilities to the point that we can think we have no limits in our powers. Many politicians have this kind of sickness. They can be so soaked with ambition that they can fail to acknowledge their limitations. But this is another story.

Self-pity is a more common disease, especially when in a poor society beset with all sorts of problems, like ours and many others, there is also inadequate and improper human and Christian formation.

Situations like this can make people’s attitude towards their problems and difficulties to become very negative, steeped in easy discouragement, despair, sadness and depression, finding no value in them.

Self-pity can also be a cover for laziness, complacency, envy, greed, self-centeredness, and a number of psychological aberrations like low self-esteem, etc. It can also trigger a slippery slope toward graver disorders like insanity.

As Shakespeare would say, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” St. Josemaria Escriva used to call sadness the ally of the enemy, the devil.

Self-pity isolates people from others, leading them to build their own worlds and hampering their capacity to work with others in solidarity. It shrinks their sense of the common good. It detaches them from reality. One can be in a crowd, yet he would still feel lonely.

It simply lends credence to the poetic insight, “Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.”

We should develop the knack to detect the beginnings of self-pity in ourselves and in others. Better still, we should do all to protect ourselves from it, by developing the proper attitudes and virtues.

First, we should always trust in God and enliven our relation with him. This can always be done, and in fact should be done, since this is fundamental. Without this, other human resources and measures, no matter how brilliant and impressive, will just come to grief.

We need to refer everything we do to God, offering it to him and trying to figure out how it fits in God’s plan, a difficult but not impossible task. Let’s remember that Christ gives meaning to everything in our life, including our pains, sufferings, problems, difficulties, failures and tragedies, and even death itself.

We have to develop the relevant virtues: patience, fortitude, joy, prudence, optimism, openness to anything, since in life, anything can happen to us, but God would still be in control.

For this, we have to be familiar with his doctrine and start to assimilate them into our life. Our life, let’s remember, is always a life with him. It’s not simply one by ourselves completely. It’s a participation in his, but we need to do our part to cooperate with him.

Let’s not forget what he said: “Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke upon you and learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest to your souls.” (Mt 11,28-29)