I never realized self-pity was such a monstrous yet unexplored theme in my life, until one June 30 some years ago, when my wife said, "You sometimes don't take very well what I'm about to tell you."
June 30 is my parents' anniversary.
Christine and I were in Las Vegas that night--it was our last night just the two of us--following our weeklong all-in at Okoboji Family Bible camp. (I include the details, because that juxtaposition to me, is kind of hilarious; like the fact that I quit smoking on Ash Wednesday, 2000.)
Where was I? oh yeah—she says, “you sometimes don’t take what I’m about to tell you very well” and I heard me say, "Well, I will tonight because He has given you eyes to see my blindspots."
I remember this tiny golden key sort of hovering in front of her and the invitation to take ahold of it in my imagination, knowing, somehow, I was about to need it. The key, He showed me later, was humility.
I'd just said, "Yes!" to her sort of kidding question, "Is there anything you'd like to stay in Vegas?" I told her I would really like to let go of the fact that I felt completely blindsided and hosed by a dear friend and client in this really big deal I had been chasing when I found out the week before that we had come in second.
I felt like the Owners had really misled me (and, of course, my client) in terms of how strong a lock we were.
And it was a huge deal.
And I'd sold it to them in the first place.
And it was still stinging ten days later and I was having, well, a little trouble letting it go.
The thing that she said that she said I sometimes didn’t take very well was, "You used to just blame God, but now you just blame your clients when things don’t go the way you want them to."
My pal, Pastor Richard calls this the idolatry of expectations.
What's the word I'm looking for?
Oh, that's right: Ouch! I mean I was sitting right there when she said it and she was pointing it at me.
There is a key here. Unsolicited advice always feels like judgment. But she had warned me that it was at least unflattering and I had given her my permission to keep going. Spiritual consent. Willingness.
It was one of the greatest gifts she has ever given me in a sentence.
I said, "Ok. I agree. I don't know whatall that means but I can sure feel the weight of it. You're right and I'm all in on whatever He'd like to do about it."
And we went on with our night but I was committed to discovering why I felt so excited and so full of dread—like you do when you’re about to have a miraculous cure to a cancer you didn’t know you had.
So, I turn fifty years old today and I’ve been holding onto this word for a long time, now. But it is the perfect gift and I’d like to give it to you, just like Christine gave it to me. It was, without a doubt, the biggest game changer for me in the last ten years.
Fifty is a number that represents jubilee or this magnificent picture of the cancellation of debt and returning to a life of childlike, unencumbered freedom.
See, once upon a time, today, my birthday, a marker of sorts, you would have found me pensive—chewing on my annual regrets, assuming, believing, knowing I’d missed it again: cue the Charlie Brown soundtrack of woe is me and old Eeyore’s hangdog expression.
I would have been sitting in an accusatorium on and off all day, trying to escape the sneaking, constant, deep-rooted suspicion that I’d missed it, I’d blown it, I hadn’t accomplished X or Y or Z and surely He must be as disappointed in me as I was.
I would barely be able to see or receive any indications to the contrary.
I would have had a dutch oven day steeping in self-pity but just not known to call it that.
And I’d have put on such a brave face when anyone was around that you would never have known I had been privately licking my wounds all day and spreading infection to my own heart and soul and since we love our neighbors as we love ourselves…yeah, wow.
On my fortieth, a decade ago, today: Christine spear-headed a collection of loveMegs letters from an amalgamation of my phenomenal friends and family.
One of her wishes for me was that, essentially, I wouldn’t do to myself what I just described. Because she knew and knows and loves me better and brighter and bolder than anyone—including me, sometimes.
I can giggle at this so-serious, former me and if I could, I’d tell him to “lighten up, Francis”.
Ah, the magnificent freedom a decade can bring to the painfully introspective.
My smile is fire, ready, aim-easy, today. Sincere.
I’ve learned not to take myself so flipping seriously.
So the birthday gift I would like to offer you today is so simple: if you have any—surrender self-pity.
Relentlessly pursue it like the villain it is. It is a thief of joy and gratitude and peace. Shoot it in the head until that zombie / brain eater dies.
My journey out of it wasn’t easy because it was so entrenched. It effected how I framed most everything.
But its end was very simple: I went after it. I asked the Holy Spirit to help me and like He does, He did.
I studied it and its effects in Scripture. I had long talks with Jesus about His lovingkindness which leads us to repentance. I let the Father be proud of me. I listened to Joyce Meyers and anyone who ever spoken on it that I could find (there aren’t that many talks, interestingly). I still found dozens of sermons on it using a thesaurus. I studied its ties to resentment, bitterness, judgement, worry, critical spirit and a host of other maladies.
And every time I started to hear those thoughts or any of their awful companions, I said, sorry, old friends, I can’t entertain you and I won’t. And I didn’t.
It got to be so fun because I started to gain such traction, I tracked it all the way to complaining, which I gave up in 2017—one of its primary manifested and obvious fruit.
I committed to Christine that I would go after it before I really even knew what it was and I want to reiterate, that’s such a huge key: the willingness.
Are you willing to extract this toxin from your vision? It is part of the promise Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God,
Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.
It’s ok to be disappointed.
It’s not ok to allow that disappointment to become your primary revelation.
Discover not only gratitude, but praise.
Music that moves you is a key.
Finding people who need help and helping them is a key. Praying and Praying in tongues is a key. Talk to God, no really. Finding Hope is a key. Trusting His goodness is a key.
Graham Cooke said if there is even a hint of helplessness it is under the influence of a lie.
Here is my hero and me on Straight From the Heartland diving into fun faith and turning fifty.
If you extract self-pity from your life, it will be the greatest birthday gift you can give or receive and Love in all its slendors will flow so much easier on every front without it.