Why do you want people to feel sorry for you?
by sean terry | JULY 5, 2021
My therapist and I sat in his spacious office on a Friday morning. I liked meeting early because the sunrise always cast straight through the east window and left a glow on the teal walls. He liked to keep it cool inside, so the gentle whir of the AC provided a subtle white noise that made the space feel less stale and allowed more room for contemplation. We sat opposite each other, him on an armchair equipped with his iPad, and me wearing my back brace while on a large blue couch that could swallow you if sitting too far back—my walker folded against my knees.
On this particular morning he was having none of my nonsense. I came to him in a very good mood that day and was looking forward to telling him stories of how nice others had been to me since breaking my back. I’ve mentioned before in this blog series that one of the benefits to getting seriously injured is that others will notice and give you special attention—and this was the most I’d ever gotten in my life! The overwhelming sympathy being extended to me was an enormous blessing that I greatly appreciated. But after hearing me delightfully explain how happy my life had become once everyone started feeling sorry for me, he finally asked the question that stopped me right in my tracks.
“Why do you want people to feel sorry for you?”
It seemed like an innocent enough inquiry; it turned out to be a landmine. Minutes later I was a sloppy mess of snot and tears as I began to unpack some of my deepest and oldest inner wounds. Turns out that there were things inside I hadn’t adequately examined. There was an enormous deficit of feeling loved in my life and it had resulted in me trying to get that feeling satisfied in a very unhealthy way.
I tell this story not to drum up even more sympathy for poor Sean, but to highlight a condition of humanity that is inherent in each one of us: the need to be loved and be in control. As Dan Allender once wrote, “Beginning with the first day of life outside the womb, every child is asking two core questions: 'Am I loved?' and 'Can I get my own way?' These two questions mark us throughout life, and the answers we receive set the course for how we live.”
If you ever encounter a drowning person, the first advice is to avoid getting too close to them. The best way to help is to throw them a lifeline, an object for them to grab on to. When truly desperate for air, a drowning person will literally drag you down underwater to catch their breath. In their panic to get their needs met, they will do whatever it takes to get it.
This principle applies to almost every area of our lives. Make no mistake—if you have a need you will get it met. No matter how unhealthy or abusive you have to become, you will get your needs met. Attention, acknowledgement, intimacy, security, safety, control, and love. Each one of them will get fulfilled in our lives one way or another, even if we must sin.
Everyone wants to be loved. What kind of “love language” translates to us might change, but we will spend our lives seeking it. Counter to this desire though is the perpetual craving to be in control. We all want to be loved, but sometimes not more than we want to be in charge.
However, what I find so interesting about Scripture is how lacking in concern it is for these needs. That might seem surprising, but I was surprised myself to find few if any verses address or prioritize our own wants for love and control. The Bible spends a great deal of time commanding us to love others, but not necessarily making sure we feel loved. Sure, it reminds us that God loves us, but just knowing this isn’t the goal.
Romans 13:8 ESV
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
There is more than enough teaching on giving up control and submitting to others, but virtually nothing that gives me permission to demand others to let me have my own way. In fact, even possessing the self-control to do what is right in the face of temptation is intrinsically a submission to God.
1 Peter 2:17 ESV
Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
In addition, throughout the bible stories there is never really any moral justification for disobedience or hurting others to make yourself feel better. God doesn’t accept our need for love or control as an excuse for our sin or transgressions.
And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
The character of Jesus is the opposite of selfishness. He loves those who do not love him. He submits even his own life into the Father’s hands so that others can be saved. Therefore, I simply can’t find Jesus wanting others to feel sorry for him because desiring pity is an issue of pride. It revolves around wanting all of your own needs to be taken care of before you will be concerned about others. But growing into godliness requires dying to yourself and letting your needs be met by the Father.
When we were spiritual infants, we needed the assurance of God’s love for us. But now that we are maturing, we must put our attention towards loving others. The Lord doesn’t want us to feel sorry for ourselves or have others do it for us. When we fall, He nurtures us back to health and promotes us back to the front line where we can show His loving kindness to others that are hurting and broken. It was good for me to experience an abundance of attention for a while (sometimes God can use a physical issue to bring attention to a spiritual one). But now it is important to get back to work doing the will of the Father, which can only be done because He first did something in my life! I get to share what God has given.
James 1:22-25 ESV
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
So what about you? What needs have you been struggling to get met in your life? What is the healthy way to get those needs met? And how can you help meet the needs of others?