Self-pity constantly rears its ugly head and we have to learn how to slay it to be a more resilient person. There are multiple steps we can take to conquer its seductive allure. In the fall of 1982, now paralyzed and rolling into a new normal, I found myself moving into a townhouse with a friend from church. Occupational and vocational therapists did their best to prepare me for life, as a sit-down person, since coaching gymnastics was no longer an option. I learned some basic homemaking skills in the hospitals mock kitchen (I had never really contemplated the role of wife or mother prior to my injury) since marriage was in my near future.
Before the age of 22, I had brief ministry stints in Haiti, England, and Holland. I was supposed to leave for Greece and work aboard a Mercy Ship next but three weeks prior I had catapulted over the edge of a giant boulder. Like most my age, I was absorbed in self-discovery and finding an answer to the existential quest: “What is my destiny and how can I make a difference in the world?”
Since becoming engaged to Peter, who flew over the cliff with me and merely had the wind knocked out of him, I believed that a 12-month engagement after my injury would amply test the strength of our relationship. Besides as time went on I didn’t feel so needy that I couldn’t live without him, and that was important. Though I could no longer drive, because I didn’t have access to a modified vehicle and needed a little training on that hand control thing, I was regaining my autonomy with each new day.
The six months prior to my marriage were spent improving on the independence/dependence continuum. Because of my high level of injury (paralysis from under the arms down) a basic skill that I needed to accomplish was the ability to transfer myself, without assistance, in and out of my chair. When discharged from LLUMC, I still required the use of a transfer board. The sliding board was placed under my thighs and buttocks to help me move from my chair to the bed, the seat of the car, a tub bench for bathing, the living room sofa, and back again. Managing a transfer without the sliding board was like leaping over a chasm; you felt suspended in mid air, helpless, and falling into an abyss. Truly fearful.
Simple tasks once executed with no problem now required hours to complete. Although I considered myself a strong female and was not overweight, I simply did not have the upper body strength to swing ¾ of my body with ease from location A to B. Eventually though, many weeks, tears and transfers later, I actually was able to eliminate the board and overcome self-pity’s allure. I learned that no matter the battle, no matter the number of attempts, resilience and stick-to-it-tiveness, is our key to success. (Hey, and the next time you stand up and shower, don’t take it for granted, breathe a prayer of thanks.)
While I adapted outwardly to conquering my physical environment, inwardly I continued to struggle with the emotional, spiritual and philosophical issues of such a catastrophic loss.
I remained a consummate reader. Books that examined God’s sovereignty, his presence and compassion reigned at the top of my list. Books on physical healings and miracles were consumed including those those that suggested if I ever wanted to be healed then I needed to relinquish guilt, unforgiveness, and resentment. I even wondered if I had prayed my way into this tragedy.
Nine months earlier, while living in the red-light district of Amsterdam working at a Christian youth hostel, I picked up a slim volume entitled, Miracle in the Mirror, the story of Nita Edwards (Her book is no longer in print but her documented story is a bona fide 20th century miracle). Here’s a brief recap:
Nita a 22-year-old college student, living in India at the time, fell down a flight of stairs resulting in tremendous pain and difficulty walking. Upon examination she was told she needed to be hospitalized and that meant returning to Sri Lanka where her parents resided. Months of medical intervention and traction could not keep the creeping paralysis from moving steadily upward. Nita’s body began to shut down and die, part by part. During her time in the hospital a pastor came to visit and spoke to Nita about the healing power of Jesus. Nine months later Nita begged her family to lease a nearby apartment, hire a private nurse, and let her die in peace or let this Jesus whom she’d been reading more about, heal her. Either way, all medical interventions had been exhausted.
While Nita lay dying, she heard an audible voice speak to her the day, date and time Jesus would heal her. As her faith strengthened and she began to believe, she asked God who could be in on the miracle. Two medical doctors, her mother, the pastor, his wife, and a few more were invited. Only the pastor and his wife knew about the impending miracle. The others had gathered for prayer.
When the hour arrived, the power of God invaded the room from the right side of Nita’s bed like a ball of fire. The glory of God burst in, flooding that tiny space with such intensity that the inhabitants were swept up in it, and overcome by it. It was like looking directly at the noonday sun, and only being able to take in a tiny fraction of the radiance. Nita’s bed began to vibrate with the energy of God’s presence, and she felt a million volts of power coursing through her body.
At 3:30, he came into the room with blinding glory. As she looked at him, he moved toward her. She was suspended in time and space, filled beyond capacity by the unfathomable love of God. Jesus came to the foot of her bed and then he reached out with his nail scarred hands and touched her. The chains of paralysis exploded away as Nita rocketed out over the end of her bed landing on her knees with a thud, joining the others in prayer.
The Buddhist nurse was in the habit of checking in on Nita every few minutes, regardless of who was visiting. This time when she stepped in, she stopped in the doorway—furious. These lunatic Christians had lugged the poor cripple out and propped her against the foot of her bed to pray!
Shortly after 4 o’clock, pastor Colton suddenly jumped up. “We’ve prayed long enough,” he declared smiling, his face wet with tears. “Now it’s time to celebrate!” Everyone stood—including Nita!
I was 21-years old when I read her amazing story. At one point, tearfully overwhelmed by her suffering and courage, I stopped reading. I put her book down on my bed and knelt to pray, “God, I don’t know if I am able to go through what this woman went through, but I’d like to know that I’m strong enough to.” Nine months later lying on the snow, lapsing in and out of consciousness, I remembered that prayer. Of course I assumed that I too, like Nita, would be healed. After all, didn’t finding her book amongst hundreds of others providentially prepare me for tragedy to triumph also?
For the remainder of the year, and into the next, wedding plans took front and center. Thank God none of my girlhood dreams ever included a pouffy dress. They also never included a single thought of rolling down a wedding aisle. It is with major milestones, and still tends to be today, where I can easily go into a funk and sink into self-pity’s pit. It is the kind of depression where the more you labor the more you sink. But doesn’t life as a sit-down person grant me the right to indulge in self-pity parties any time I damn well please?
But then I remember and draw strength from the following:
“Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.” Helen Keller
“Do not let others pity you for you will only begin to pity yourself; which then makes you a smaller person.” Author unknown
“I waited patiently for the LORD; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He lifted me from the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay; He set my feet upon a rock, and made my footsteps firm.” Psalm 40:2
I had to choose to NOT sink into self-pity’s pit. I had to look UP to the God of All Comfort. And along the way I found a third resiliency while I was digging out of the rubble. In order to respond resiliently to whatever life throw’s our way we must learn:
How to Rise Above Self-Pity
For additional resources, check out:
11 Signs of Self-Pity and 7 Steps to Overcome It
No More Pity Parties: A Guide to Celebrating Your Way Through Life
Pain, Power & Promise: 19 Ways to Turn Setbacks into Comebacks
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“Yet there is one ray of hope: his compassion never ends. It is only the Lord’s mercies that have kept us from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his loving-kindness begins afresh each day.” Lam. 3:22-23
May you find a new mercy today as you refuse to yield to the sinking self-pity-party pit,