“I’m sorry.” These two words are some of the most powerful in the English language. They have the power to heal, restore hope and bring people together like almost no other combination. Used correctly there’s almost nothing those words can’t do, including undo the past, if only in an emotional or figurative manner. Being sorry is an amazing thing, and in almost every circumstance, it is something I encourage people I counsel and those I love, to do.
So now, based on all that I have just stated, I would like to offer you some advice that might seem counterintuitive. STOP FEELING SORRY – for yourself.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand. Bad things have happened to you. Some of you, many times over. I truly get it. My parents divorced when I was 5. I have lost a grandmother, mother-in-law, and others to cancer. I have lost a father-in-law to suicide. I have struggled through many-year long episodes of life altering anxiety, that affected my ability to be a husband, father and pastor. I have seen my wife struggle through losing her parents, and felt powerless to help her. I have held my kids as they struggled through broken arms and horrible sickness. I have put my dog, who I was unhealthily connected with, down. I have owned a cat. Ok, maybe that last one just got snuck in there. But I want to tell you – I feel what you have felt. I KNOW WHY you are feeling sorry for yourself, and that it’s justified and that it makes sense.
Over the years, I have counseled victims of depression & anxiety, spousal abuse, sexual assault, and much more. I have seen them walk through unimaginable circumstances and face things that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I have seen the damage that it has wrought on their lives, and the lives of those around them – those that they love, and I KNOW that NONE of it was their fault. These things were done TO them, not BY them, and they are unfairly and unfortunately, truly VICTIMS of someone and something else. It is one of the most incredible and difficult blessings in the world, to be invited by someone else to walk with them through their pain, grief and trauma – and it is one that I don’t take lightly. I understand the depth and gravity of the pain that exists out there – and I hope that in some small way, I can do something to make a difference in the midst of it.
But again, I want to tell you – STOP FEELING SORRY – for yourself. Perhaps to you, I seem insensitive. Maybe you can’t wrap your mind around the idea that a person who is supposed to espouse love and support in every situation – is telling you to get over your pain and hurt. It might even be that you so vehemently disagree with my premise that you want to fight. Like with real fists and bloody noses. I understand that too. Because there are days that I want NOTHING more than to sit in my bed in my undergarments and feel sorry for myself. Like for the entire day. I want people to call and text me and tell me that they’re sorry for me too. I desire to receive sad messages and comments on Facebook and Instagram. I want people to come hug me, and pray for me, and tell me that they’ve never seen or heard of anything so awful as what’s happened to me. I really, truly, sometimes want all that and more. But I have a question, for you, and for me – when it comes to feeling sorry for ourselves. That question is this;
What good is feeling sorry for yourself getting you?
Like for real. Are they handing out free stuff to people who are complaining about their lives? Is there a medal somewhere I can get? Do you feel better after you feel bad? Cause I certainly don’t. Hopefully my point is becoming clear. Your self-pity, and mine is not getting us anywhere, and it’s not gaining us anything. It’s not helping us either.
Believe it or not, there’s a story in the Bible that actually pertains to this exact idea. I know, I was shocked too. It’s found in the Gospel of John, and it’s about a guy whose life hadn’t exactly been awesome up until the point we find him in the story.
John 5:2–8 (ESV)
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.”
Did you catch that? Jesus, who at the very least is a known miracle worker and prophet, and at most is God, asks this guy who is thirty-eight years suffering if he wants to be healed. His answer is familiar.
“I can’t. I don’t. You wouldn’t. You couldn’t.”
The man offers excuses as to why he isn’t already better and can’t really be troubled to get better either. He literally tells God why he can’t be healed. At first glance, the man seems insane. We want to point our fingers and say “come on man!?!?” But when we’re honest with ourselves, it becomes pretty obvious that you and I do the exact same thing. When God perhaps brings people or circumstances into our lives to help us out of our misery, don’t we often answer the same way as the man by the gate?
“That sounds like too much work. I don’t know the right people. I can’t do what I’d need to. I’m not smart enough, fit enough, or spiritual enough.” I can’t. I don’t. I shouldn’t. I won’t.”
Lucky for us, and for the sheep gate guy, Jesus isn’t having any of the excuses or sorry feelings.
John 5:9 (ESV)
“Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.”
Healed. Restored. Happy, and suddenly full of hope. Hope for a future that is different than the past full of problems he’s accustomed to. And the truth is, he wants to do the same for us. To help us HEAL from all that, and those, who have hurt us. To redeem our relationships and restore our ability to feel hope in this life and for our future. That’s why He came. That’s what He did. That’s what He offers us. A chance to quit feeling sorry for ourselves and start making a difference in this world. He doesn’t minimize what has happened, in fact He suffers along with us. But He doesn’t stay there. He doesn’t sit in it. He isn’t defined by it. And He doesn’t want us to be either.
So do yourself, and the rest of us a favor. Be sorry for the things you’ve done and you can control, and let go of the rest. Hand them over to a God who loved you enough to offer you a way out of your “lame” – and gives you hope for a new life. Stop feeling sorry – and start experiencing spirituality in a way that heals all that’s hurting inside you. Don’t think you can? Don’t worry, because I guarantee you – HE can.