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The trap of self pity
pastor corner

Pastor Jim Jackson

Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church

The haunting lyrics of John Denver’s songs have a way of grabbing your innards, even putting them in a twist when they voice the pain of our shared humanity. I’m thinking today about the lyrics of his song entitled “I’m Sorry.”

John, author of the song, describes the various sources of his pain. They include the cold discomfort of a city, the way things are in China, lies spoken, and taking things for granted.

He’s sorry for all those things, and three times he admits he’s most of all sorry for himself.

Then in the third stanza he complains about not being able to sleep at night and says he’s dying down deep inside. The song could be cathartic, giving healing vent to the singer’s various sources of pain. Yet it doesn’t end on a high note, rather it leaves the vocalist trapped in his sorrow.

I’ve never been a fan of animal traps, though I recognize they have been necessary for those who earn their living thereby. Yet I hurt for those animals trapped in pain until the trapper delivers death’s relief with a club or a gun. It isn’t a pretty scene. Yet even more discomforting to me is those persons who find themselves trapped in self-pity. That’s where Denver’s song leaves the subject of “I’m Sorry.”

What a contrast between the Prophet Elijah and the Apostle Paul. Elijah, fearing Jezebel’s vengeance, parked himself under a desert tree and asked God to take his life. He believed his life was no longer worth living.

He baptized himself in self-pity. Not so with the Apostle Paul.

Locked in a Roman prison, shackled, and attended twenty- four seven by a guard, he rejected self-pity as an option. He writes in his Philippian letter that he’s rather ambivalent about death. On one hand, it would mean immediate joy in the presence of his Lord. But on the other hand, he would be happy to continue his ministry among the churches.

Who doesn’t spend some time briefly locked into selfpity? Yet it makes for a poor campground and we don’t have to be self-punishing and locked up. Elijah was delivered from the trap when God helped him see there was yet good work for him to do. The same for Paul. The key to liberating one’s self from this trap is having a purpose greater than one’s self. Paul was locked up in a prison, but he avoided a greater one—self-pity. He was focused upon active service for his Lord. With eyes of faith, we may see beyond ourselves. Yes John, it’s cold there in the city of self-pity.

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