I’ve had an “interesting” life.
I’ve been married, and my husband walked out on me.
I’ve been suicidal, and my relatives turned their backs on me.
I’ve been a child, and my father abused me.
I’ve been homeless, more than once. I’ve been unemployed at least as many times as I’ve had jobs. I’ve been sick and unable to get medical help. I’ve been victimized with no means to pursue legal redress. I’ve been stolen from, assaulted, threatened, stalked, harassed, lied to, cheated on, bullied, and more. All by people who claimed to love me.
So one of my very favorite things to hear, when I’m going through hard times, is the popular singsong of the righteous:
“There are people worse off than youuuuuuu!”
I am continually baffled when I hear variations on this phrase, especially coming from fellow Christians. I’ll be the first to admit that citing chapter and verse is not my strong suit, but I’m reasonably certain that it doesn’t appear in the Bible.
During some of the worst periods of my life, such as when I’ve had to ask for public assistance during homelessness or unemployment, I’ve been forced to choke on my tears when people chirp that motto at me. “Remember, there’s always somebody worse off than youuuuuuu!” When you’ve essentially been reduced to begging, you’re not “allowed” to express your feelings (more on that in future posts). You keep your head down and your hat in your hand and you suck it up while the sanctimonious decide whether you “deserve” their help or not.
In recent years, however, I’ve started to bite back. Nowadays when someone makes that inevitable self-satisfied little quip about people having worse problems than mine, I have a question for them:
“Are THOSE people allowed to feel sorry for themselves?”
So far, nobody has an actual response for this, of course, because they’re more interested in being holier-than-thou than actually displaying a little empathy.
So yeah, my response doesn’t phase them, and they usually just repeat themselves or dismiss me at that point. People who spout that particular catchphrase always seem to be very secure in their own rightness. Also, they’re invariably quite secure in whatever it is that I’m struggling with, such as finances, shelter, employment, or access to health care.
Which brings me back to my bafflement: Why do such people consider it important or useful to remind a suffering person of other people’s suffering?
Yeah, yeah, perspective. Right. And you know, if I’m running down the street sobbing and crying over a hangnail when you just had your hand amputated, feel free to put me in my place, but outside of something cartoonishly extreme, save it, because guess what?
God cares about my stupid little problems.
Don’t get me wrong. YOU don’t have to care, or even pretend to. But if you’re my brother or sister in Christ, you might want to have a little “what would Jesus do” moment before you so quickly dismiss my feelings because somewhere in the world there’s still a starving Ethiopian.
Luke 12:6-7 reminds me that God has time for my troubles:
Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?
But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. (KJV)
God doesn’t tell the sparrows, “I have more important things to deal with.” God is the handyman of the universe: No problem too big OR too small.
The Lord doesn’t wag his finger and lecture me about all the other suffering in the world. He does want me to have perspective, but get this:
It’s HIS perspective, not yours.
When I’m having a pity party about my former boss screwing me over on vacation pay, or how I can’t get anyone to rent to me because of my past eviction record, or when I’ve been unemployed for months and applying for every job, even the crappy ones, without a single callback, God isn’t scolding me because the child brides in the Middle East have it worse.
Instead, God holds me in his hand and tells me to lean on HIM.
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (KJV)
The oft-quoted Proverbs 3:5-6 is oft-quoted for a good reason: It’s vital information to remember, especially when times are tough. In the original Hebrew, the sense of the word translated “direct” is to “make straight.” He doesn’t just show us the right way to go; he levels the road ahead when we follow him.
Notice what it doesn’t say? “Think about all the people who are suffering more than you are right now.”
So can we all please knock it off with this? Not only is it unkind, it’s unbiblical. Let’s lift each other up by reminding each other to look up, not around.