(This is the second blog in a series of five, entitled “Rooms to Stay Out Of: Self-Pity, Failure, and Regret.” It is taken from Lesson 6 in Happy School Advanced, a study of the book, Happy School.)
As the Genie taught in Lesson 3, individuals with the exact same objective situations or circumstances often give them completely different interpretations. One person feels victimized by fate and carries a sense of being injured (thus feeling sorry for herself). But another person—remember, one with the exact same circumstances—does not feel sorry for herself. The difference is that humans assign value to and interpret all situations and circumstances.
Let’s take five examples and see how people with the exact same objective circumstances respond differently.
For the first example, let me tell you about a woman my husband and I know. This woman’s neighbor’s dog charged her and scared her. As a result, she fell down, breaking her wrist. She will now have to permanently deal with a level of arthritis in her wrist. This is unwanted, I agree, but she rails about how this incident severely set her life back and nothing will ever be as good again. The injury happened over two years ago and she still blames her stagnant life on this unfair injury.
In contrast, we also know a man who was turning right in an intersection. He had the right of way but an 18-wheeler bulldozed right through the intersection, clearly on a red light, and hit our friend’s car. The man will never walk again. He and his wife were getting ready to retire and enjoy their grandchildren, but instead, they’re now looking at how to make their home handicapped-accessible. No one would want these circumstances. But what is remarkable is that these people are cheerful, accepting, and grateful to be alive.
For our second example, let’s talk about a woman named Suzanna. Suzanna was married once, but that didn’t work out. So after her divorce at age 29, she started looking again. Now, still single at 42, Suzanna is dealing with the fact that she will probably never give birth to her own children. Every time I talk to her, she is wildly upset over this situation. She asks, “Is it too late to freeze my eggs?” “Should I marry this man who has been divorced three times so that I might still have a chance at having children?” She is full of turmoil and discontent.
Then, there’s Gwendolyn. She too wanted to get married and have children. But it never worked out. She has built a beautiful life full of rich friendships, fulfilling work, and using her gifts to serve. When you meet her, you notice her easy laugh and contented heart. She told me once that “acceptance and courage” were her mottos in life. Acceptance of “what is” is such an important but difficult lesson to learn.
Thirdly, let’s discuss Courtney, who is in her 40s. Her husband lost his job, again. For some reason, every job he gets doesn’t seem to work out. Now she has gone back to work and is the primary breadwinner for the family. Her husband is a nice guy, but he clearly has disappointed Courtney as far as being the family’s primary provider. Courtney doesn’t want to divorce her husband, but she feels extremely resentful that she has to carry the load of the family’s finances. Courtney and her husband have been to various counselors, and nothing has significantly changed. Her resentment toward her husband is high and she is still considering a divorce.
In contrast to Courtney, there is Betsy. Betsy’s husband has also never figured out how to successfully move up the career ladder. After many years, he is still working in a deli, making sandwiches for the lunch crowd. Betsy’s husband works, he just works at minimally paying jobs. And he’s a nice guy—friendly and jovial. This couple too has tried a couple rounds of counseling, but nothing has changed. Betsy struggled for years with this scenario. But eventually, she said she had to make a choice, either accept her husband’s weakness set (and decide to primarily carry the family’s finances) or disrupt the family unit (they have 3 children) with a divorce. She said both choices were unpleasant, but choice A was better in her mind. Betsy decided to accept the (highly unwanted!) situation. She went back to school, got an advanced degree, and now has a job she definitely enjoys. She has forgiven her husband for his (again, what I would call severe) weakness, but has decided not to let it ruin their family unit. In addition (and this is amazing), she said she has not only forgiven him, but can still enjoy her husband’s lightheartedness. Her lack of anger is apparent when you see them together. Now, she has a large degree of fulfillment from her job, and her children have grown up in a stable home. She is a delightful woman and has actually learned to be content.
For our fourth example, let’s discuss Sarah. Sarah inherited a portion of her family’s office supply business. Her two siblings wanted her out of the business, and pressured her to sell them her portion (at what I thought was a low price). You still cannot talk to Sarah for very long without her discussing how she was mistreated.
Then there’s Joanne, a counselor with a small but stable practice. One time she decided to change churches. Many of her clients—who were members at her old church—decided not to use her or recommend her anymore. During this time, there was even some untrue gossip spread about her. Joanne virtually had to start completely over and rebuild her practice. Initially, she was extremely disappointed, of course, but gathered herself and stepped out again. Her spirit is calm and content while she struggles to grow a new practice. “This is not preferred,” she has admitted, “but hard things happen to everyone. I can’t sit around and feel sorry for myself.” Actually, this is a noble mindset, as many people do sit around and feel sorry for themselves when faced with unpleasant obstacles.
The last example is Rebecca. She loved being a mom to her two boys, but now they are grown and have both moved away. Yes, she can visit them some, but it seems like they visit their wives’ families more frequently and just can’t seem to make it to see her very often. This is not the bustling family environment she always hoped to have, with a home devoted to family and grandchildren. This WMD (What’s Missing and Disappointing) occupies a lot of Rebecca’s thoughts, and in her words, “makes me feel sad and depressed.”
Then there’s Jerri. Jerri spent her 30s and 40s rearing children, too. Her children, like Rebecca’s, have all now moved away. Of course an initial sadness filled her as she left a life which was consumed with children to a very empty nest. However, instead of murmuring, Jerri chose to seek out several new interests to occupy her mind and time: a part-time job, a book club, yoga, and tutoring low income children. If you press her, she will tell you that she quarantines the sadness of her children being gone and intentionally replaces those thoughts with those about her new interests. She laughs and says, “I didn’t have a choice.” I said to her, “Oh, I know a lot of women who make other choices. For instance, you could stomp your feet, fuss, and have self-pity!” We both laughed as she would never want to be that kind of person.
The difference in every single one of these five situations is that one person had self-pity and the other person quarantined the disappointment and focused on (thought about) what they were grateful for, their goals, their calling, or their Genius Zone. In addition, in all of the second examples, each woman ultimately decided to choose acceptance of what is and then to move forward from there. We have to accept what we cannot change. Ranting and railing against it in our minds will not change it.
Over the years I have discovered that underneath self-pity there is the belief that one feels they are special and they are owed a certain kind of life. Their self-pity usually reveals they are annoyed at God (although many will resist admitting this).
Job had this problem. He was mad at God. And we understand his anger, of course. Job had enough faith and theology to know that God could fix things in the blink of an eye, if He wanted to. Job challenged God’s goodness and purpose. How God responds to Job in chapter 38 are some of my most favorite sections in the entire Bible:
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” (v. 4)
“Who shut up the sea behind doors….when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt?’ ” (v. 8 and 11).
“Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?” (v. 12)
God was declaring His right as Creator to have mysterious purposes. We are to trust Him that they are for our good. He has purposes for our suffering and we don’t always get to understand. But we can accept the unwanted circumstances. We can trust Him because He gave us historical evidence and proof that Jesus was God when he raised him from the dead. This historical situation, the resurrection, is why we can have courage and perseverance in facing our problems.
It is noble when you stand in hard circumstances and yet proclaim, “I will serve the Lord with gladness. I will trust in Him.” God wanted us to have assurance that in the end, He would rescue us. He performed the best miracle of all-time, the resurrection, so that we could have faith, rest, and trust. The historical resurrection gives us assurance that when he says in His Word He cares, He hears, and He is able, it’s true.
If you were dealing with a broken heart over something that you wanted in life but didn’t get, try spending an hour a day in prayer. Yes, an hour a day. You will be surprised how quickly you will heal when you are in the presence of the Lord. There are ashes, or there is the presence of the Lord. Focus on getting to bed early, because that is the secret to getting up early. (Did you know that the hours you sleep before midnight are more valuable than the post-midnight hours?) Before the dawn, have your Bible and journal (and coffee?) ready to go. You’re on a mission to get ahold of God. Start with the Psalms. If it’s the 3rd of the month, read Psalm 3 and then add 30. That’s Psalm 33. Read that and add 30. That’s Psalm 63. And so on, Ps. 93, Ps. 123. Then read the Proverb that matches the day of the month. Do this every day.
When you’re in the presence of the Lord, record anything in your journal that you think is a promise for you. God is a promise maker and a promise keeper.
In Happy School, I am teaching you the tools and secrets of thinking to overcome discouragement and worry, i.e., to help you achieve emotional freedom. But the Word is living, and in the Word, you will find peace that passes understanding so you can encounter spiritual freedom. (They are not the same things. People who are not Christians can learn how to think correctly and therefore, achieve emotional freedom. Only those who have received forgiveness for their sin and have submitted their life to the Lordship of Christ can have freedom over sin and freedom from the resulting guilt.)
List your top WMDs in your journal and beg God to give you His perspective on each of them. (More on this in Lesson 10, the Morning Happiness Routine.) Talk about life-changing! This is truly living above circumstances and walking by faith!
How you choose to view the hard circumstances in your life—as well as your past failure and regret—are these: one, murmur against God, or two, embrace acceptance, courage and perseverance, and walk by faith while standing on His promises.
The next blog in this series is #3 out of 5, entitled Playing Failure Movies and What Could-Have-Been Movies in Your Mind. You can access all the blogs now at JulieNGordon.com under the Happy School Advanced tab. Scroll down to Lesson 6.