In Defense of Pity Parties

Blessed.  That was the sticker on the car I read as it passed me.  It is not the first time I had seen someone with a sticker stating this.  It has always bothered me I think because most of the time these are placed on really nice cars, usually one I cannot afford.  On this day, it struck me as particularly bothersome.  You see, my son recently made a statement that really hit me hard, he said, “Nothing good ever happens to our family.”

As much as I wanted to argue the point, in truth, I could not.  Both my kids are in the valley of suck too. I lost my wife and my kids lost their mom. I don't know what that is like but I know it sucks.  And you know, a lot of days I agree with him and this was one of those days.  Do good things happen to our family?  Sure and a lot of times, I would start out giving him a list of things but on this day it was too much.

It was a pity party kind of day.  It was a day in the valley of suck and my son named it.  But I cannot help think about what our problem is with naming moments in life for what they are?  I do not mean just society, I mean Christians too: what is our deal?  Can we really not be honest with the reality our lives can be excruciatingly hard?  That some days, the valley of suck really sucks?  How about just naming a bad day for what it is and throwing a pity party?  

I am standing up today in defense of pity parties.

It bothers me to think our Christian faith is measured in what we have or do not have.  If you’re spending any time in the Lectionary readings of recent weeks that come from Luke’s gospel, then you’ll see Jesus has a real issue with measuring or relying on material wealth as a sign of being right with God or being blessed.  

Very telling is this week’s reading is from Luke 16:19-31 and the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.  As I read multiple commentaries, I am amazed, going back even to Martin Luther, the focus seems to be still on what the parable says about heaven and hell.  But the context has NOTHING to do with that!  A quick glance at the context in Luke 16:14 says clearly this parable has to do with coveting and trusting in riches for our hope. The engineering of heaven and hell isn't the main point.

Our passion for positivity runs so deep it seems to me people now even struggle to live with the simple empathy which Paul challenges the Roman Christians to emulate when he says,
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.“ (Romans 12:15-16 ESV)

The writers of the wisdom of the Old Testament seem to have had little issues with expressing their pain and having pity parties regularly before God. “Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me! (Psalms 142:6 ESV)” is just one of the many cries.  This does not include the writings of the prophets which share the trials and difficulties of those who sought after God and proclaimed God’s message relentlessly and knew pain and suffering intimately.  

Do all good gifts come from God?  Scripture declares it so (James 1:17) but Jesus says that so too does the rain fall on the just and unjust (Matthew 5:44-46)

Blessed you say?  Why?  Because of wealth that God has given you?  In light of the varying statements of Scripture text that seemingly contradict one another, maybe the Spirit is pointing to a more profound truth - a middle way (which is often maligned these days from every side)?

It seems to me a more Christian response might be to have a sticker which says “Content.” Maybe that is just not good marketing though? At issue is that we find this idea throughout Scripture too: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11; see also 1 Timothy 6:8 and Hebrews 13:5)).”  Go look it up if you must but I find it means exactly what we think it does in the New Testament Greek.

I defend the pity party because we’ve defended for too long the idea of “Be Happy” theology as the way to discern God’s presence in our lives. That is, a theology that all God wants is us to be happy and well off and without worry to determine if it is God’s will.  I’d prefer a middle ground somewhere along the way but to do it, we need to make space for a Savior who, “...has nowhere to lay his head (Luke 9:58).”  The Church and Christians need to come to grips with a God who became like us; not like the U.S.  We need to tailgate less and throw pity parties a bit more.  

I am not saying it is necessary to give up everything to follow Jesus but I can tell you it is in the realm of possibilities because he told someone else to do it (Luke 18:18-24).  We need a theology which makes room for pity parties alongside all our “blessing bashes.”  There needs to be room enough for those who grieve in the late hours of the night (Psalms 6:6) as there is for those who celebrate in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

So here is to you, all you who are throwing a pity party, go for it!  You may not have a crowd to fill an arena, just be sure to send me an invitation because Jesus will be there and where Jesus is, I want to be too.

Image used with permission and


Cynthia Astle said...

Fascinating post. Picking up for UM Insight with your permission, Ken.

Jedi Pastor Ken said...

Anytime. Thank you Cynthia

stevenjared0853 said...

This post is truly interesting and I completely enjoyed reading it thoroughly. Well I have never attended parties but this year on Christmas I would like to throw a small party for my loved ones only, so I need to book affordable venue. Can you help me in finding list of affordable venues so that I can book nice one from them.

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