The canceled pity party

September 9, 2008 | Uncategorized | 27 comments

Sunday night the girls stopped by. They said they couldn’t chat long because they had to get over to Riley’s* house for a football party that her aunt and uncle (whom she lives with) were throwing. The street was lined with cars, people had been streaming in for the past hour carrying various foodstuffs, and you could hear laughter and music coming from the open garage. It looked like a good time.

In a kids-say-the-darndest-things moment, nine-year-old Riley announced, “I asked Aunt P. if we could invite you, but she said no because then we’d have to invite your husband and your kids, and she didn’t want to deal with getting extra food for you guys.”

Ahem. After the hours and hours that Riley spent at my house this summer, the countless times she’s has eaten lunch or dinner at my house (the most recent being just a few days ago), even when it wasn’t exactly scheduled that she’d dine with us, even when there wasn’t enough…we weren’t invited to her aunt’s party. Let me just say that it was tempting to tell the girls to hang on for a moment while I walked over to my calendar and wrote “feel sorry for self” or perhaps “bask in glow of righteous indignation” as my scheduled activity for the rest of the evening.

The situation left me with an opportunity to ponder the topic of self-pity, particularly as it relates to the Christian life:

First of all, before I say anything else I should note that the main thing Aunt P.’s actions did was establish us as kindred spirits. Not only have I said my fair share of things behind closed doors that I would die if my kids repeated, but this move in particular is so my style that a good adjective to describe it would be Jen-esque. Many times I’ve bristled at the idea of last-minute guests attending one of my events, not out of anything personal against them, but simply because I get overwhelmed by hosting parties and don’t deal with change well. For this reason alone it’s stupid for me to feel insulted. But wait! There are even more reasons…

This situation made me look at my own motives for continuing to have the girls over, even when I often feel like I can’t do it anymore. The truth is that I mostly do it out of love for God and the love for them that he originally instilled in me. However, this situation made me realize that I’d fallen into the temptation to expect a worldly payoff for my actions, e.g. “I’ll really work on being more Christ-like in this area of my life, and the great thing is that everyone will love me for it and be super nice to me!” I see now that I have a looooong way to go in terms of loving my neighbor in that pure, true way that does not expect anything in return.

The main point (and the one that I found most frustrating when I was looking forward to devoting a solid chunk of time to wallowing in self-pity) is that I don’t get to feel sorry for myself because none of my kind deeds were mine to take credit for. As I said back in my first post on the subject, this situation has been all Holy Spirit from the beginning. It is not at all in my nature to have other people’s kids around my house for hours on end or to invite them to our table when they’re hanging out during mealtime. If I had encountered these kids the way I did a few years ago, the only affiliation I would have had with them would be when I saw them in Small Claims Court for the nuisance charge I filed against their parents because of their constant doorbell-ringing pranks that woke up my children every day.

And that’s perhaps the biggest thing I learned here: how tempting it is to think that I’ve done the things I’ve done all on my own — that it was just “Jen the Nice Person” who, for example, raided the pantry for extra food to feed Riley dinner the other night — instead of remembering that it was only through the grace of God that I was able to cheerfully set an extra place at the table even though I was tired and nauseated from morning sickness.

To be clear, I am not saying that you have to be religious to do nice things. I know lots of atheists who act in kindness all the time. But in this particular situation, which hits on pretty much everything I’m terrible at (forgiveness, having guests over, dealing with kids, cooking, cooking for other people, adapting to change), it’s been abundantly clear from the beginning that a Force other than me is orchestrating it all, and the rest of us are just floating along on a wave of grace.

* Not their real names.

27 Comments

  1. Jen

    Your honesty is refreshing. Thanks for sharing how the Lord is working in your life!

  2. Christine

    That is an area in my life that I should work on also. Thanks for sharing. Got me thinking.

    I always wondered how the saints still loved so when God asked so much of them. My heros.

  3. Anonymous

    Thank you for your honesty. This was a beautifully written, thought provoking post.

    Cindy

  4. SuburbanCorrespondent

    All true – but I still wish she had invited you!

  5. Big Mama

    Love your honesty. Love your heart.

  6. Jill s

    As always, you make me think. Thanks for helping me with my walk with God.

  7. Hairline Fracture

    You are so honest, and I love how willing you are to look at yourself and your underlying motives instead of just going ahead and throwing a pity party. You’re being a good example for me!

  8. amy

    But in this particular situation, which hits on pretty much everything I’m terrible at… it’s been abundantly clear from the beginning that a Force other than me is orchestrating it all, and the rest of us are just floating along on a wave of grace.

    So well said, and so true–I find myself more and more looking around and realizing that I wouldn’t be doing this or that if it weren’t for something outside of everyday life and outside of my own personality driving me. Thanks for putting it so beautifully.

  9. Michelle

    It’s something I struggle with. It’s easier to do the things that we know we should and want to do when we don’t get anything back. I help out my brother and sister as much as I can because they are not as fortunate as my husband and I have been. It often feels easier to help my brother because I know the help is appreciated and also because he and his family have a close relationship with our family (that is there whether we help them or not). My sister on the other hand rarely calls unless she needs something and we only see her family mostly for holidays and family get togethers. It’s also hard to tell if she appreciates the efforts we put into helping her. But in the end we have to know that it is the right thing to do and it is what we really want to do. Really I can’t say that God hasn’t guided me towards helping her on more then one occasion when everyone else would have walked away. Including finding out about a program I could order groceries for her (my son happened to be having an unusually grouchy Sunday and I happened to take him to an entrance we don’t usually use where I saw a flyer on the program). It’s not easy and it’s not rewarding in any material sense of the word. I just feel good knowing that I can and do help.

  10. Dawn

    I can so relate to this post! Thank you for your honesty, you write so well. I am encouraged as I read that you share some of the same weaknesses as me and then see how you let God work through them.

  11. Spring

    Wow…great honesty. I do some of this too…especially the self-righteous indignation part. Ugh. Not pretty. Thanks for showing me a better way.
    Spring
    Signs Of Faith Book. com

  12. Shelly W

    This post is exactly why I love your blog! Thank you.

  13. asv

    ‘Jen-esque!’ You should have heard how hard and long I laughed! Why don’t I read you more often! (answer is I am studying for my CPA exams).
    Anyway… Although I don’t read so often, I get a lot of tips from you. Hmm in some way you are kind of a spiritual director to those who follow your blog… at least an inspiration. Thanks, you and your family are in my prayers. Angie from Houston.

  14. Anonymous

    Jen, you are the bee’s knees.

    Truly, I could have written this (but not nearly as eloquently). It’s a comfort to know that I am not the only one out there who thinks and feels these things….

    Blessings,
    Leila

  15. Kathryn

    Even realizing that the Holy Spirit was what get me going with embracing the neighbors, I still think I would have wallowed a little in self-pity…I’m so sensitive, it drives me nuts!

  16. Teresa

    I’m with you on this, so many times the “pity party” invitations are sent out but the Holy Spirit say “return to sender”.

    Hope your feeling better!

  17. Sandy

    Thanks for posting this. I’m going to send it to my 18 year old daughter who is a freshman in a dorm at a Christian college. She and her roommate have been excluded by the other girls on their floor for petty reasons and I’ve tried my best to give her advice on how to handle the situation. Your comments are better than anything I’ve come up with.

  18. The Koala Bear Writer

    I too love your honesty. I don’t handle changes in plans very well either… 🙂

  19. Susan Thompson

    Look on the bright side. Riley asked Aunt P. if they could invite you. Someone was thinking of you!

  20. Anonymous

    You are SUCH a blessing and example to me!!!!!!!! Been reading 2-3 weeks now and have caught up on many backposts. I’ve been a life-long Christian but am freshly convicted and encouraged every time I read your blog. You are discipling me through this blog!!!

  21. Dustmite

    It’s been a while since I stopped by and read your post – I’m glad I did. I have been meaning to make a post in regards to your “story of friendship” but just never got around to it – until tonight (mypontification.com).
    Since I first read your post things have happened in a similar way at our home and I find myself having moments of frustration. Frustration that there is a house full of screaming kids or that the dinner I was expecting to have has been given to others. At first I was ok with this, but as it continued to happen I must admit, I was starting to celebrate with a “pity party”. Unhappy about the amount of food others were eating and thinking of the grocery bill, etc. Sometimes it can be hard not to give in to self or to worry about “our needs” and realize that God will take care of us and that even the simple act of taking care of these girls is brining glory to him. For me, trust is a hard thing to give and walking away from self even harder.
    As usual, I found something in your post I could relate to. Thank you.

  22. Liz

    Good for you, Jenn, to be willing to acknowledge that it’s grace that’s at work. So often people will say how nice someone is being, and when it’s me I know that it’s grace, not me. I spent a lot of time in the past few years doing elder care and trying to do it with patience. So many days when I went to the place where the elder was I had to pray for grace just to walk through the door. It totally went against the grain for me. I’ve often said it was a good thing I became Catholic before my mother got too senile because it was only the graces of the sacraments that allowed me to deal with her patiently. Maybe some people are naturally good at dealing with senile elderly people, I’m not. Naturally speaking I’d far rather have your little girls to deal with. However, I guess that God knew that it was senile elders I needed for my growth because he gave them to me in spades (sequentially 3 of them in a 10 year period).

    I’m sorry that Riley’s family hasn’t yet seen fit to get to know you better. We’ll have to continue to pray for them.

    I hope that the morning sickness is improving. I imagine with the school year beginning you are at least getting a bit more rest with the girls in school.

  23. asnipofgoodness

    i love this post, so real, and so insightful fo each of us as we examine our own motives in doing good. Thank you for helping me think!

  24. lyrl

    I know the point of this post is about how wallowing in pity is unfruitful. But I get the implication from this story that holier people should not get hurt feelings.

    But part of learning to love people is learning how to not hurt them. If we don’t express our hurt feelings, then those around us can’t learn that aspect of loving us.

    To me, it seems like a balancing act between on the one hand using negative feelings to grow our relationships, and on the other hand letting those negative feelings build a wall between us and those around us.

    And really, you seem to be using your experiences to help in your own growth and (by sharing them here) the growth of your readers. So I’m not able to completely articulate why this post bothers me so much.

  25. Jennifer F.

    Lyrl –

    I get the implication from this story that holier people should not get hurt feelings.

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear — that’s not the point I meant to make with this post. If this situation had played out a year ago, before I began having the girls over, I wouldn’t have thought much of it. I don’t know those neighbors all that well, and I could see how they wouldn’t want to invite our family of five to their party. The only reason I felt so indignant is because I had fed her niece so many meals…but then I remembered that I only did that with the grace of God, that if it weren’t for that I would have told those kids to buzz off a long time ago. Basically, I was feeling like I was just a much better neighbor than she is, but that’s not true at all. In fact, on my own I am exactly like her in terms of inviting last-minute guests to parties.

    If it clarifies anything, if this were to happen with a good friend or family member, I would have no problem speaking up and talking about how I felt and trying to resolve the issue. The only reason I didn’t in this case is because a) I totally understand now why she did what she did, and b) I don’t know her that well in the first place.

    …letting those negative feelings build a wall between us and those around us.

    Again, because I realized that she and I are so much alike, there are no hard feelings. I don’t have any problem with her and am happy to develop our relationship as neighbors if the opportunity arises.

    Hope that clarifies what I was trying to get across.

  26. lyrl

    I admire you for “canceling the pity party” and think it was a loving and productive response to the situation – my comment about not building walls was an awkward attempt to compliment your handling of the situation (i.e. a wall could have easily been built, but you avoided it).

    What I was trying to get at was that, justified or not, it was normal for you to feel hurt in that situation. I was concerned that if you decided your hurt was unjustified and hid it, the girls would get the impression that what their aunt said was 100% OK with no negative consequences.

    It was the girls my overactive imagination was concerned about, not their guardians. Your response changed my mind on that, especially the comparison with a friend or relative: I think I was too focused on a narrow situation and not looking at your overall relationship with the neighbors. It was thoughtful of you to respond.

  27. Anonymous

    Eh, you’re being kind. That lady should have invited you. It wasn’t nice of her.

    However, the Good Lord let the niece tell you about it, so that is a blessing. Because now you know what she’s really like, and sometimes you don’t know the truth about people for years. He saved you some time.

    God bless.

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