I just spent ten minutes trying to open a package a friend sent to me in the mail. In the past months, I’ve grown frustratingly weak. At the end of a long, hard box war, I was in tears, and I’d flung my cardboard enemy to the far side of the room.
But here’s the bigger picture. I’m in more than a battle with illness right now. I’m in a battle for my soul. And it’s played out in my self-talk every day.
The instant I let my attitude slip, a negative script began to play in my head–one of several favorites these past months.
Interestingly, David was familiar with similar feelings. He wrote about how his attitude slid when he experienced suffering. In Psalm 73, Here’s the pattern, and if we’re honest, I think we all can relate.
Psalm 73:3: We envy others’ prosperity.
So here’s how it goes for me. I’m living a lot of life on my couch right now. When I go out, I’m going to a medical appointment. And I’m often in a wheelchair. But my friends are still visiting their kids and grandkids, planning parties with one another, even grocery shopping. Right now I can’t unscrew the cap from a bottle of water. Envy creeps into my self-talk, if I allow it.
Psalm 73:4: We become bitter about other people’s lack of struggle.
It’s easy to fall into this “poor me” mentality. And popular culture tells us we’re entitled to it. After all, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Right? In other words, it’s the world’s job to satisfy my needs and desires. WRONG. My identity as a Christian is rooted first in my Sonship (this is not an issue of gender, folks), then my role as a Servant of God and others, and finally as a Soldier in this world.
Psalm 73:5: We compare circumstances.
Okay, let me just say that chronic illness can bring out the worst here. I’ve been to church only twice in three months, and if I go, my husband Dan takes me in a wheelchair. I’m unable to walk the distance to the bathroom and back. I struggle to button buttons. I have a hard time thinking or finding things. I fall down. And I choke just drinking water or on nothing at all. So it’s hard to listen to friends talk about flying off to conferences or vacationing. My vacation is sitting in the car at Sonic. I need to be deliberate about my self-talk, or it will overtake my attitude.
Psalm 73:6-16: We place blame, judge, and slip into self-justification.
We take the focus off of OUR motives and actions and become obsessed with what other people are doing. When this happens, we lose the opportunity for God to use our circumstances to change and mold us. What a waste. We sink into self-pity and self-justification and become deaf to God speaking to our hearts.
Psalm 73: 17-20: The solution: Wisdom comes as we sit in God’s presence.
Perspective and understanding in suffering come as we spend time with God. We will always sink into bitterness and anger if we focus on circumstances, other people, or search for justice. Only the character of God and his unwavering love for us bring the wisdom and peace we need in times of suffering.
If we look for these things on our own, we’ll end up with answers limited to our own knowledge. Our perspective is earthly, temporal, and influenced by our sin-warped tendencies (yes, you). We’re all driven by self-centered motives and desires, as well as wounds and hurts that have been inflicted by this world. Unless we seek a perspective greater than our own, we are limited by our innate human myopia.
Psalm 73:25-27: God is the strength of my heart and gives light for my path.
God gives everything we ever need in suffering if we come to him–strength, wisdom, perspective, guidance. We only have to ask. He never withholds the things we need.
So what should we do when our attitude slips?
- Hang out with God.
- Talk to him.
- Bring him your concerns, complaints, fears, and sorrows.
- Be honest with him.
- Ask him for wisdom.
- Remember the good things he’s done.
- Trust his character.
- Spend time in Scripture, and ask him to talk to you through his Word.
What about YOU? How do you handle your self-talk during hard times? When are you tempted to fall into a similar pattern?