(The following is a chapter that was not included in the book, Wife School. For those of you who have not read Wife School, Jessica is the story’s protagonist and Matthew is her husband. In a way similar to how the authors of Charlotte’s Web, The Velveteen Rabbit, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe used toys and animals to speak profound truths, I have used a genie to convey wisdom in this story. This chapter happened in Wife School before Jessica entered her “transformation” stage.)
Not a happy day. I just talked to Chloe (one of my two younger sisters) and she told me that our friend, Carla, is having a new Bunko group and we both weren’t invited into the core group. I mean, when Carla got married, Chloe and I both went in with friends to throw her a blow-out shower. And now she’s leaving us out. Pretty rotten if you ask me.
And Matthew just called to tell me (warn me) that not only is he going to work Saturday morning, he is adding another bowling session on Saturday afternoon. Since Matthew lost a large account last month, he’s working extra to try to build his business. But in the meantime, he says we’ve got to cut back on spending until he can get our income up again. “Cutting back” is not one of my strong suits.
I’m in a funk for sure. It seems like so many things are crummy in my life. The pressure of taming my rowdy boys, a household to run (and I detest housework), and my responsibilities with the PTA (counting the days until my duties are over)—all seem unpleasant. And oh, let’s not forget my crazy part-time job of addressing wedding invitations for all the Bridezillas in Memphis. My last client says she would pay me before her wedding and now, she’s off on her honeymoon, probably spending my calligraphy money on exotic drinks. Gosh, I wish I had an easier life. My life feels ridiculously heavy, with all these burdens I shoulder. Really, I feel it’s unfair.
“Hello, Young Jessica,” I hear a voice behind me. Immediately, I recognize the Genie’s voice. I wonder if the Genie can abracadabra Carla and make her invite us to the Bunko group. Noticing the crab cakes, the fried okra, and broccoli cheese soup that he snapped into existence on the counter, I decide not to push it and ask for anything else.
Genie is wearing some nice new satin pants. Gee, I wish I had some new clothes. I never get to buy the clothes I want because I’m always on some stupid budget.
“If I could only teach you a few topics, Young Jessica, today’s topic would definitely be one of them. Today’s talk will be about a blind spot that many women have that not only makes them unattractive to their husbands, but also makes other people not want to be around them.”
Unattractive to Matthew? Other people not want to be around me? This talk won’t apply to me, I’m sure.
“Today’s discussion will be the blind spot of self-pity.”
Whew. Glad it’s something I don’t have. Sometimes he likes to discuss my weaknesses. Luckily, not today.
“Self-pity comes when one decides that their life is hard and difficult,” he says. “You can smell self-pity pretty quickly when you meet someone. They will say phrases like, ‘how hard things are’, ‘how unfair life is’, ‘it always happens to me’, or ‘I can’t get over how crummy my life is’. The cry of this woman is always how she doesn’t get enough attention, enough appreciation, enough admiration, enough time, enough money, enough consideration, or enough high-treatment.”
Well, he’s being a bit rough on women….and I think, possibly, a bit rough on me. Why, if the Genie had thankless housework, monotonous laundry, and the unappreciative spouse that I have, then he’d be a little more sympathetic. It is indeed a hard knock life.
“Men feel a certain responsibility to listen to their wives complain and even a tendency to try to fix what’s wrong,” he says. “But they don’t enjoy it. Men don’t mind an occasional problem, of course, but when the constant daily conversation from his wife is ‘how hard my life is’, they’d like to escape.”
Well, that makes two of us that want to escape.
He continues, “Friends are there for the occasional truly hard times, such as a child in the hospital, unemployment, illness, etc. But when you whine about your daily life all the time, friends are really thinking, ‘Hey Sister, suck it up. I’ve got issues, too’.”
No, not my friends. And especially not my sisters. Anyhow, they all whine as much as me.
“Circumstances don’t cause self-pity, Young Jessica. It’s what you say to yourself about your circumstances that determines if you have self-pity.”
That’s stupid. Of course circumstances cause self-pity. Just look at my hard circumstances. They are to blame for why I am often discouraged.
“Women who tend to have self-pity,” he says, “look at a circumstance and they say to themselves, ‘Wow, this is hard and unpleasant. It’s unfair. I don’t like this. Why do I have it so hard?’ Women with the exact same circumstances, however, who don’t have self-pity, say to themselves, sentences such as ‘Trials are a part of everyone’s life and I can conquer the set I was given.’ ‘Obstacles are surmountable’. ‘The Creator wants to bless me somehow through this, (even though I can’t see it now) because He wants to give me a success and a future. He wants to do me good. I will look for the good coming as I would look for a glad surprise’. ”
I wonder if the Genie is right about this. I sort of doubt it. He’s saying that circumstances don’t determine if you have self-pity, but what you say to yourself about your circumstances determines your self-pity. Tricky.
“You cannot tell by looking from the outside who has self-pity. A beautiful, talented, financially-secure woman (who apparently has everything) can have a strong dose of self-pity,” he says. “She looks at her circumstances and decides that they are ‘not enough’. Another example would be a woman who struggles with a low-paying, laborious job who also loses her eyesight. Normally, we would think this woman would have self-pity but I have seen many women such as this say to themselves, “I can still have a happy life even though I am disabled. I can give, love, and contribute. I will accept ‘what is’ and make the most of it.” Circumstances are not the predictor of who has self-pity.”
Circumstances aren’t the predictor of who has self-pity? I can hardly believe this.
“Here is another example,” he says, “of what some non-self-pity women say when hard things happen to them: They say to themselves, “OK, this unpleasant thing is happening and of course, I’d rather it not, but it is. So I accept it at this moment. I will do everything I can to make the situation better. Most obstacles are surmountable. I will be a problem-solver in the face of adversity.” And then, they become incredibly pro-active in finding solutions.
I’d rather eat chocolate and whine.
“You can decide to make a huge shift in who you are,” he says. “You can leave the ranks of the small-timers who feel sorry for themselves, and think they should get a pass on trials. Or… you can rise to be someone who decides to be an overcomer, a conqueror, someone who looks adversity in the face, and decides it will not get them down.”
The Genie sounds like a politician, promising a tax break and a steak dinner if he gets elected.
“Self-pity comes when one focuses on what is missing and on what is disappointing,” he says. “Sure, we all could use more time, more money, more attention, more love, more appreciation, more help, more devoted friendship, but life is life. The person without self-pity says, ‘Well, this is the norm, that is, to have trials. And now, I will do everything I can to conquer this’.”
I like that list of the “more’s”. More money, more time, more help, more love….
“The day you give up being a ‘victim’ and take responsibility for your life without blaming others,” he says, “and you set about focusing on how you give and how you love (not on how you’re given to or how you are loved), you rise to another rank of human being. Your world changes internally—and others will perceive you differently.”
Promises. Promises. Anyhow, he doesn’t understand. My mom died and I have no one to really listen to me now. And I have metabolism issues and I’m tired and I’m overworked. Shouldn’t I get to moan a little? I think so.
“Now of course,” he says, “we all have hard times and we want our spouses to share it. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about a mindset where a wife, day after day, has a heart full of self-pity, of feeling ‘life is hard’. Why, inner happiness and contentment in a woman is one of the most attractive things about any woman at any age. Her joy lights up her countenance and it draws people—especially her husband—to her. No matter how gorgeous a woman’s skin or hair is, self-pity makes her ugly.
I do understand this. I’ve seen some gorgeous/ugly whiney woman.
“The secret to overcoming self-pity,” he says, “is to see the abundance you have.”
There he goes again, saying things that aren’t true. Abundance? Where?
“Do you have gangs walking down your front street? Do you live in an area where there are bombings? Do you have clean water? Is your heart in good condition? Do you have two legs to walk with? Do you have eyesight? An undamaged brain that works normally? Refrigeration? Air-conditioning? A car? Plumbing? Do your kids have a good school to go to? Do you have the freedom to worship as you please? How about a friend or sister that cares about you? Do you have a grocery where you can go and buy healthy food? Do you get to nap while the baby naps? Do you ever have a little bit of extra money to buy something for yourself, like a book or some new shoes? Does your husband come home? If so, does he ever play with the kids?
Well, now that you mention all of that, I….eh…well, …eh….
“Abundance, Young Jessica. Overflowing abundance. But you focus on what is missing and what is disappointing and therefore you have self-pity. Learn to be a woman who focuses on her gratefulness lists. Work on your lists and add to them until your heart bursts open with how incredibly blessed you are. Sure you will have problems. You would have to leave the human race to not have problems. But you don’t have to focus on them. Problem-solve and then put your problems on a shelf while you think about your goals, your vision, your calling, your strengths, and the gifts you want to give away.”
That could be another topic right there. I don’t have a lot of goals and vision and such. Maybe that’s part of my problem, too.
“Victor Hugo said of a fictional character in one of his novels, ‘Her presence lights the home; her approach is like a cheerful warmth; she passes by, and we are content; she stays awhile and we are happy.’ That woman certainly didn’t have self-pity.”
Well, that woman was fictional. This is real life womanhood we’re talking about!
“I want to state again, Young Jessica, that of course, close relationships share burdens. But what I am discussing here is a tendency for a wife to repeatedly focus on what is missing and disappointing VERSUS focusing on all the blessings she has as well as focusing on the vision and work that the Creator has called and gifted her to do. Once she gets out of the ditch of self-pity, and gets into the zone of focusing on being proactive to overcome her obstacles, of leaning on the Creator in prayer, and in thinking about how to give her gifts/strengths away, she will become a delightful person who has a happy heart.”
Genie thinks everything is so easy. We mortals have trouble changing.
“Don’t be a little clod of dirt that is upset because your world in not perfect,” he says. “Welcome to life. Yes, there are serious problems: accidents, illness, financial reversals, unfaithfulness, but even in the midst of those severe afflictions, you choose your response, either a whiner in a mud puddle, or a champion who will seek to accept and yet conquer this obstacle. If you are human, you will have trials. Don’t let them beat you up so badly. Do your best to solve them, overcome, learn solutions, and accept things along the way. Find optimistic explanations for upsetting circumstances. Everyone loves being around these kind of awesome people, especially husbands!”
So, eh, I guess maybe I need to think about all of this. Maybe Matthew wouldn’t work Saturday mornings and bowl Saturday afternoons if I didn’t…well, …if I didn’t have self-pity!
So, okay, okay. I admitted it. I have self-pity. I can say, though, with some degree of certainty, that this will not be an easy ship to turn around. I already have self-pity that I have to get rid of self-pity.
Three quick thoughts:
One: Never have I met a woman who never struggled at some level with contentment. “Contentment” is a huge game-changer. It changes your relationships with others and it changes how much you enjoy yourself! What a drag to live with yourself and your constant ruminating over what is missing and what is disappointing. The Apostle Paul admonished us to be content with food and clothing (that’s a very short list, don’t you think? I would have made it longer.)
Second thought: In Philippians 4:8, Paul gives us a list of things to think about: whatsoever is true, noble, right etc. Whiners don’t like that list. Whiners want the verse to read “whatsoever is disappointing, whatsoever is missing, think on these things”. You actually can move upsetting thoughts OUT of your mind by moving GOOD thoughts in. This takes a lot of practice. I have lists and lists of “good thoughts” to read and re-read in my journals. My friend, Karen, taught her children to move this thought in when adversity struck: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” She taught them to move OUT of the upsetting thoughts of their current adversity, and to move the GOOD thoughts in of God wanting to do them good. Powerful stuff.
Third thought: Proverbs 31 says something really cool about the virtuous woman: “She laughs at the days to come.” Gosh, I love that woman. How I wish she could meet me for coffee at Starbucks. No self-pity for that chick. (Hey, this woman had no refrigeration, no electricity, no air-conditioning, no indoor plumbing, no make-up, and no Kroger. Bummer!) But she had a cheerful, happy heart. Now that’s the kind of woman your husband would like to be around!