Putting on sackcloth

In my chair time I made it through a book I’m largely unfamiliar with.  It gets caught in those other books I kind of forget are there, yet are so rich for my faith walk, and in my recovery.  Bad days happen, bad events take place and we feel guilt, shame and withdraw from the world around us.  When that happens I feel like I’m walking around with my sins listed on me for all to see, laugh at and mock me.  I know I’m not alone, and this weekend I was reminded of that.  Again.

1 Kings 21: 25-27  But there were none compared to Ahab, who sold himself to evil deeds in the sight of the Lord, which Jezebel his wife stirred up. He performed the most abominable act in following idols like the Amorites, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel.

When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and walked meekly.
This isn’t the first time we see Ahab acting meekly, or sulking because things didn’t go his way.  Especially for those of us who find us not connected to Jesus, I myself have been there when I put other things before Him, it’s easy to see the errors in our way and then do the exact same thing as Ahab.  What his response was though, was also one of repentance.  While he was confronted with, and had to account for his sins it’s clear he didn’t stay cut off from the world and God wallowing in his sin.

1 Kings 21: 28-29  Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”
For all of us, whether we admit our sin or are confronted with it there is a similar path we take, and can take.  How long will I hold myself back from forgiveness and wallow in the ways I’ve fallen short.  In these times I’m also prone to self-pity, another remarkable trait for creating isolation and preventing growth.  Another great and likely better known example of self-pity is Jonah.  Talk about someone who should have been able to find great joy, and not self-loathing or anger at God.

He didn’t accept his commission to travel to Nineveh at first as the Lord had told him to, because he didn’t believe it was a city worthy of redemption.  Well all know how the story went with him finally traveling there, and he accomplished exactly what God had asked him to do.  However, after turning from their ways he went right back to sulking.

Jonah 4: 1-4 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

While we don’t know exactly how he died, it seems fairly revealed that he dies in that same cycle of self-pity.  I know self-pity wasn’t the only thing Jonah was dealing with, but its presence and effect is pretty plain to see.  We can relate to and appreciate how he felt because of our own experiences.  Pitying ourselves and the anger that develops is something that can shut us down emotionally and spiritually.  We can feel that pull ingrained in us to sulk, lash out and go back to our old ways.

Self-pity is our own selfish response to something not going tour way, and because it’s so subtle we often don’t recognize it right away.  It’s selfish because it’s not a God inflicted condition, it’s ours that we impose on ourselves.  We feel justified to indulge it as though it’s the absolute right thing.  But self-pity is dangerous, deceitful and heart-hardening.

It cuts us off spiritually, stifling our faith and limiting any hopes we have.  It robs us of joy and love, fueling anger and resentment.  It gives us feelings that we’re rightly justified in engaging in, or remaining in unhealthy behaviors.

Hebrews 3: 13  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

Seek counsel, seek community and seek God.  Regardless of how long self-pity has been a part of us it’s never easy to change our ways.  The thought of giving up can be like the sweet Sirens song, but giving into it leads to crashing on the rocks.  God is fully capable of helping us all develop new habits to replace old ones.  It’s up to each of us to fight the desire to give up because it doesn’t happen overnight.  We need support of others so we can share our struggles, but also to find support and encouragement when we’re headed towards the rocks.

Grace and peace be yours in abundance

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